I enjoy reading love stories that offer more than the actually build up of the relationship. The type that doesn’t solely focus on how they met, the problems they will face, and then whether one of them gets to live in the end.
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson is exceptional because it combines the following elements: history, religion, and psychology to enrich the love story between the main character, I can’t recall ever reading his name…and Marianne Engel.
I first picked up this novel a few years ago. I thought this piece of text on the cover was, simply, weird.
“Love is as strong as death, as hard as hell.”
Younger me used to think much more softer and happier images under the theme of love so I thought why not tweak my perception a little?
The novel did, firstly, by introducing me to the beloved Marianne Engel and the nameless protagonist. I think I had grown used to the damsel- in-distress types or the chronicle of the almost perfect characters finding each other despite it all types. And then these two messes come into my life.
It took me a while to love that narcissistic, cynical, asshole of a main character. Despite all his flaws, his development as a character after he survives his car accident is profound. I believe this is one of the ironies of the novel: despite appearing as “gargoyle” on the outside, he became more human on the inside…
Marianne Engel is a complex character on her own. A daring and caring persona with a stable career in sculpting grotesques. Additionally, On the surface, she seems to be a mentally-ill patient with a strong belief that she was born in 1300 Germany. However, the stories of her past life are strongly interconnected and with other “coincidences” that you are left with this unsolved question:is she mentally ill? It reminds me of the conclusive scene of Life of Pi (I am yet to read the book). Did the character Pi actually go through that remarkable journey?For both, I believe the reader is left to decide and I am convinced that Marianne Engel is not schizophrenic. Overall, these two characters seem to compliment each other strongly.
Like I said earlier, I like love stories with an extra punch. Davidson integrates multiple time periods: the past life of Marianne and the protagonist and extra love stories told beautifully by the character, Marianne. Each extra love-story is unique in time period and setting; small aspects of different past times intertwined with a story set in modern times. We have one from the Victorian age, a Japanese one, a Viking tale, etc. The author does also include snippets of the “appropriate” language for the respective setting which I find interesting since consistency is more favorable for sentence flow. However, I believe it favors the book since it alerts the reader that a new time and setting has been introduced into the story. Translations are provided but I haven’t done my research yet on how accurate they are. Anyone knows an accurate translation site?
Foreign text mixed with figurative language and witty dialogue prevents the reader feeling bored. There were some parts I found weird and vague. One of them was the repetitive idea of a snake being in the protagonist’s spine. At first I didn’t know whether to take it as a metaphor for the pain he was feeling or not. And then I read:
“As I leapt towards the sun, I felt the snake rip backwards out of my body…it left my asshole, fittingly enough, yanked out like an…”
Another extra kick to this love-story is Davidson brilliantly integrating his alternative version of Dante’s Inferno into the story. Truth be told, I thought it would end at the allusions and the mentioning that Marianne translated it to Germany (read the novel and you’ll understand what I mean) but then our protagonist suddenly goes through his version of the Inferno along with the characters from the other love chronicles as his guide (not altogether). With that said, the character’s from each of those tales are given a deeper purpose within the story instead of remaining as extra teachings to learn from.
Despite a incredible amount happening on the sidelines, Davidson doesn’t drift away from the novel’s main characters, their development, and their relationship. Unlike in 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami where I was begging any force in the universe for Tengo and Aomame to finally get together.
I highly recommend this novel but it does deal with sensitive subject matters such as the portrayal of burn victims, the mentally ill, and Christianity, in my opinion. To be frank, I don’t feel this novel romanticizes being a burnt victim or a (potentially) mentally ill patient but it is not my place to say.
I have no regrets buying a new copying after loosing the first one back in high school.