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The Gargoyle
The Gargoyle
by Andrew Davidson

Dark, mystical tale of medieval and modern redemptive love

An accident plunges an unnamed narrator, a drug-addicted porn actor into a physical and mental nightmare in a life that is already spiraling downward. Horrifically burned, he loses the beautiful body of which he had prided himself. His manhood, his human resemblance and his very life are at stake as doctors and burn specialists try to help him survive and recover when death itself appears the best result in his own mind. Into the burn unit walks Marianne Engel, a carver of gargoyles. She recognizes him as her lover, the mercenary whom her medieval convent took in the first time he was burned. As he lies in the burn unit, she tells him the story of her life as a medieval scribe at Engelthal. Telling tales of spiritual and romantic love, of Meister Eckhart, medieval German Christian life, Dante's INFERNO, medieval Iceland and Japan, Marianne does for him what the doctors cannot do. She reaches the space in him beneath the body. Is she insane as some claim or is she a woman with a mystical vision from another time?

The initial pages of Andrew Davidson's THE GARGOYLE shock with gut-wrenching meticulous and grotesque images of burns and burn medicine. The reader recoils from such an image of horror, even in its scientific presentation, as one might looking at the physical image of the burned narrator. As a drug addict and porn actor, the darker side of society and humanity, the temptation is to put away the book in a safe corner and avert the eyes. When Marianne Engel enters, the reader is as unsure of her as the narrator and the doctors. Is she crazy and, if so, how? As she begins to tell her stories, the reader is drawn into another world far removed from modern times, a world that understands love and life with a medieval and spiritual vision. Marianne's quest to suffer and become close to Christ places her right in tune with the Medieval mystics. Not at all in tune with the modern reality, her stories get at a different kind of truth, one that is literary and spiritual --- just what the narrator needs. Indeed, to readers familiar with the Medieval world, her stories take the reader to mystical heights that move the heart as Dante's INFERNO becomes internalized within the narrator's struggles. Although today's standards would view her ideas as a psychological disorder, this Medieval world view and the love between them reaches the narrator in ways modern medicine cannot. The power of the story as story and the redemptive power of her love gives the narrator a different means with which to view his own story. As the reader enters into the imaginative space of THE GARGOYLE, the reader him/herself experiences a similar suspension of modern sensibilities and an opening into a different kind of reality. Andrew Davidson's inspired descriptions of the narrator's body and Marianne's sculptures converge. Through his narrative, the reader turns from revulsion at the narrator's body to the heart within.

As the novel progresses, Marianne races against time to bring the hearts of her gargoyle sculptures to life as the narrator comes face to face with his addiction to the morphine given to him during his burn recovery. The tone of the novel and their life becomes more frantic as modern life crashes in on their world. As Marianne turns her attention to her sculptures, the reader catches a glimpse of artistic madness. After reaching such mystical off-the-scale heights in the earlier parts of the novel, the ending, while very good in and of itself, feels like a slight let down or slightly expected compared to the unusual, truly stunning aspects of the rest of the novel. Also, women readers and feminists might feel a tiny bit of disappointment in the ending which in its closure turns a novel of poetic beauty towards both the narrator and Marianne's story into a story that feels more traditionally and slightly more exclusively the hero's journey. For most of the novel, his stunning portrait of Marianne reaches such an exquisite level of detail, unlike some Medieval texts' depiction of women, that this reader expected something a bit more unusual. That being said, the ending is still very good, but just not quite at the level of the rest of the novel.

Andrew Davidson's THE GARGOYLE is an absolute must read for any medieval junkie. The author's sense of the medieval literature and Christianity makes this medievalist feel right at home. The unusual modern setting and characters bring a freshness to a classic vision, renewing medieval sensibilities with an eclectic powerful vision of literature internalized in his heart and externalized in his body. Like Dante's Beatrice, Marianne brings the reader to a space of redemptive love but THE GARGOYLE is also more than just a slavish modernization of Dante's literary and spiritual vision. Andrew Davidson intertwines several strands of medieval literary and Christian mysticism in an unconventional manner. Although the beginning was excruciatingly painful in terms of the detail, and the narrator's past makes him a reject from polite circles of society, these details are exactly the darkness from which the level of redemption becomes so moving. If you are looking for a light easy read, this is not the book for you. If you have a deep love and knowledge of the medieval literature and Christian mysticism, and also enjoy the dark and the eclectic in your modern reads, Andrew Davidson's THE GARGOYLE is stunning, a book to reread and cherish.


Publisher: Doubleday (August 2008)

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
Review Courtesy of Amazon Vine
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