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Gargoyle (Davidson)

The Gargoyle
Andrew Davidson, 2008
Knopf Doubleday
528 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307388674


Summary
The narrator of The Gargoyle is a very contemporary cynic, physically beautiful and sexually adept, who dwells in the moral vacuum that is modern life. As the book opens, he is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and suffers horrible burns over much of his body. As he recovers in a burn ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned, he awaits the day when he can leave the hospital and commit carefully planned suicide—for he is now a monster in appearance as well as in soul.

A beautiful and compelling, but clearly unhinged, sculptress of gargoyles by the name of Marianne Engel appears at the foot of his bed and insists that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly injured mercenary and she was a nun and scribe in the famed monastery of Engelthal who nursed him back to health. As she spins their tale in Scheherazade fashion and relates equally mesmerizing stories of deathless love in Japan, Iceland, Italy, and England, he finds himself drawn back to life—and, finally, in love. He is released into Marianne's care and takes up residence in her huge stone house. But all is not well. For one thing, the pull of his past sins becomes ever more powerful as the morphine he is prescribed becomes ever more addictive. For another, Marianne receives word from God that she has only twenty-seven sculptures left to complete—and her time on earth will be finished.

Already an international literary sensation, the Gargoyle is an Inferno for our time. It will have you believing in the impossible. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1973-74
Where—Pinawa, Manitoba, Canada
Education—B.A., University of British Columbia
Currently—lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba


Andrew Davidson was born in Pinawa, Manitoba, and graduated in 1995 from the University of British Columbia with a B.A. in English literature. He has worked as a teacher in Japan, where he has lived on and off, and as a writer of English lessons for Japanese Web sites. The Gargoyle, the product of seven years' worth of research and composition, is his first book. Davidson lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
The Gargoyle has been heavily influenced by some of Mr. Davidson's own favorite authors, who range from Vladimir Nabokov to Patrick Susskind to (go figure) the playful parodist Jasper Forde. The free-range erudition of books like Possession and The Name of the Rose also come to mind. And the wearyingly popular literary story-within-a-story format is used here to incorporate a wild, seemingly random array of tricks and tangents. But Mr. Davidson binds them together with vigorous and impressive narrative skill.
Janet Maslin - New York Times


Likely to ignite the passion of anyone who loves a mix of romance and the macabre…Nothing [the narrator]—or you—can assume about this spectacularly imaginative journey will help navigate its twists and turns. Before it's all over, like Dante before him, our narrator must visit Hades, and like every chapter of The Gargoyle, that's a hell of a story, too.
Ron Charles - Washington Post


(Starred review.) At the start of Davidson's powerful debut, the unnamed narrator, a coke-addled pornographer, drives his car off a mountain road in a part of the country that's never specified. During his painful recovery from horrific burns suffered in the crash, the narrator plots to end his life after his release from the hospital. When a schizophrenic fellow patient, Marianne Engel, begins to visit him and describe her memories of their love affair in medieval Germany, the narrator is at first skeptical, but grows less so. Eventually, he abandons his elaborate suicide plan and envisions a life with Engel, a sculptress specializing in gargoyles. Davidson, in addition to making his flawed protagonist fully sympathetic, blends convincing historical detail with deeply felt emotion in both Engel's recollections of her past life with the narrator and her moving accounts of tragic love. Once launched into this intense tale of unconventional romance, few readers will want to put it down.
Publishers Weekly


At a modern-day hospital burn ward, a patient recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident is approached by a woman claiming to have been his lover in another lifetime. Davidson believably weaves historical detail into his first novel, adeptly developing even the most minor characters. Actor/screenwriter Lincoln Hoppe, meanwhile, performs the lead character's role to perfection with a gravelly, fire-damaged voice, and he incorporates a variety of accents and languages into his narration. Both an excellent piece of literature and an excellent work of narration, this should be considered for purchase by all public libraries.
Library Journal


(Starred review.) There’s pure magic here, a classic redemption story with a hero so cynical, so damaged that it seems so unlikely that he’ll ever reach for or even believe in salvation. When he does, the reward is immeasurable. Davidson’s Gargoyle is a rare gem: completely engrossing, wholly unforgettable, and utterly transcendent. —Kristine Huntley.
Booklist



Discussion Questions
1. The Gargoyle begins with arguably one of the most stunning opening scenes in contemporary literature. How was the author able to make horrifying details alluring? What was your initial reaction to these images?

2. How were you affected by the narrator’s voice and his ability to address you in an intimate, direct monologue? How did his storytelling style compare to Marianne’s? In what ways did these tales balance reality and surrealism?

3. Arrows form a recurring symbol throughout the novel. What are their various uses as tools of war and of love? What makes them ideal for Marianne’s stories?

4. What medical aspects of the narrator’s treatment surprised you the most? Did his gruesome journey change the way you feel about your own body?

5. How did Marianne’s experience of God evolve and mature throughout her life? How do you personally reconcile the concept of a loving God and the reality of human suffering?

6. Marianne uses her body as a canvas. What messages does it convey? How does the narrator “read” bodies before his accident, both in front of the camera and while picking up less-dazzling strangers?

7. Discuss the role of ghosts and memory in The Gargoyle. In what ways does the past repeat itself? How are the characters shaped by past circumstances? When are their painful cycles to be broken?

8. What does Marianne’s copy of The Inferno indicate about the value of books beyond their content? In what way can a book also be an art object, or an artifact of history?

9. Eventually, Nan reveals her own burn scars. What motivates the novel’s healers–including Nan, Marianne, Sayuri, and Gregor? Whom does the narrator heal?

10. Discuss the role of money throughout The Gargoyle. What kept Jack honest? What did it mean for Marianne, a woman, to have far more money than the men in her life, both in the 14th century and in the contemporary storyline?

11. How did you interpret the narrator’s own Dante-esque tour, described in Chapter Twenty-nine? Was he hallucinating, in the throes of withdrawal while he kicked the bitchsnake of morphine, or did he journey to an underworld? Or both? Was Marianne a mere mortal?

12. The novel closes with Marianne’s departure and the marriage of Gregor and Sayuri. The narrator grapples with guilt, trying to understand whether he could or should have saved Marianne. What enabled Gregor and Sayuri to recognize and nurture their love for one another? What determines whether a relationship will become exhausted or perpetually revitalized? Is fate or willpower the greater factor?

13. An old adage, evidenced particularly in Shakespeare’s works, states that a comedy ends with a marriage, while a tragedy ends with a death. Given that The Gargoyle ends with both a marriage and a death, what does it say about the work?

An additional set of questions can be found here. They are for indepth discussions of Dante's Inferno, the Medieval church, linguistics, and more.
(All questions issued by publisher.)

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