As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been reading The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson. I finished it yesterday, but I wasn’t ready to write about it yet. I’m not even sure I’m ready to write about it now, but I know I shouldn’t wait too long. I have mixed feelings about this book, which was very heavy and complex, and I am unsure where to start or how to express my thoughts about it.
The Gargoyle is about (and narrated by) a man with a dark and unpleasant past. His childhood, which is revealed in chunks of recollections throughout the book, was packed with misfortune and untrustworthy adults. He grew up to become very much like those adults who let him down as a child. The author and his narrator are very frank in their depictions of a life strewn with multiple types of depravity. There is no lack of graphic description in this book. There is gore, there is suffering, there are drugs, and there is sex without love. The language is explicit at times, although not in a flagrant way – it is appropriate, given the subject matter. This rough content is most heavily concentrated in the first chapter, and still plentiful in the next two or three, although waning.
This may sound tasteless and trashy, but I did not find it to be so. There was a strange art to it. The author displays in the first 5 pages just how strong of a stomach the reader is going to need in order to continue. It’s shocking, but it’s also compelling. I found it irresistible. I had to continue, alternating between exclaiming in horror and laughing at the sardonic descriptions of sheer awfulness.
I should clarify that the humor does not stem so much from the narrator’s early life, but rather from his recounting of the terrible car accident that occurs right at the start of the book. He causes and experiences a very unfortunate crash while driving intoxicated, which nearly takes his life, but instead leaves him convalescing in the burn unit of a hospital. It is while in bed recovering from his injuries that the narrator provides much of his backstory, since he has plenty of time to reminisce and not much else to fill his hours.
The narrator (who the author has unfortunately declined to name, forcing me to continue referring to him as such) is abandoned by his unsavory acquaintances in the aftermath of his accident, and loses his material wealth. He is forced to start from scratch, constructing his social network from the only other people around him, his doctors and nurses. His cynical nature and self-disgust result in him being unwilling to try rebuilding his life, and uninterested in making a full recovery. He instead plots to commit suicide in a very thorough way once he is released from the hospital.
The major turning point for his attitude occurs when a certain stranger inserts herself into his life, a woman who acts as though she knows the narrator. While disappointed at his initial failure to recognize her, she asserts that he does indeed know her, tells him some things she shouldn’t have been able to know about him, and lets slip that she has been around for several hundred years. Their first encounter is a confusing one for the narrator, but he is intrigued. Her repeat visits begin to enhance his quality of life, as does the time he spends thinking about her in between.
The woman, Marianne, tells the narrator beautiful stories of her life in medieval Germany, as well as a few other stories about some other interesting folks from throughout history. These stories are such a high point of the book. They provide an elegant, romantic contrast – not only for the narrator, from the harshness of his reality, but also for the reader. There is a rawness to the present-day story as told by the narrator, and then there is a softness to the stories that Marianne tells, since the author passes the narrative baton to her. (Each of Marianne’s stories is its own self-contained chapter, written as a transcript of her spoken words. The stories of her own life are written in first-person perspective, and the narrator is referred to as “you” in those passages. The stories in which she does not play a part are in the third-person perspective, but they are still Marianne’s words.)
Marianne’s tales are just as engrossing as the rest of the book, and there is a sense of suspense cultivated by the retelling of her life history. Because there is so much to tell, she has to break it up into sessions, which are interwoven amongst the regular narrative throughout the book’s entire length. I was very curious about how all the stories were connected, as I assumed that they were all pieces of a puzzle that would make sense by the end of the novel.
Unfortunately, the story began to lose focus for me. I don’t know if I could pinpoint a place or time when I became less involved, but it happened. I started to get the sense that the author was stalling, perhaps because he didn’t know how to tie this all together and bring it to completion. The author kept me with him for the large majority of the book, but there was a point at which it felt forced. It almost seemed as though the author didn’t know where this was going any more than I did, and the stories and events became contrived, less plausible, and unsatisfying. As the book came to a close, I was frustrated to realize that some of the characters and details were not going to become central, nor was their presence explained in a satisfactory way.
Suffice it to say, after the brilliance of the first half, the end was a bit of a let down. Otherwise, The Gargoyle was fascinating and captivating, refreshing and sometimes disturbing, in a drop-kick-you-right-out-of-your-comfort-zone sort of way. I was disappointed by the conclusion of the novel, but I liked it anyway. The rest of it was well executed.
The Gargoyle is not for the faint of heart by any means, so I can’t recommend it to everyone. I think I have been clear enough that anyone who would not enjoy the book knows that already from my review.
I am glad that I read it, and grateful for the recommendation that led me to it (which came with its own warning). If you feel you can stomach it, I think it’s worth your time.