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Stella Matutina
books and stories and musings, oh my!
42. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson 
19th-Mar-2009 06:34 am
Author: Andrew Davidson
Publisher: Random House in North America; Canongate Books in the UK
Publication Date: August 2008
Pages: 468
Price: $32.95 CAD, $25.95 USD, £7.99 GBP
Status: library
TBR Status: neutral. I added this after 1 Jan.

The Book's Official Website

LibraryThing Info

Amazon Info

I'm sure you've all heard of THE GARGOYLE. Random House paid Andrew Davidson a $2 million advance for it... and it has tanked. It's done reasonably well here in Canada, but Americans just aren't biting. The publishers are stymied.

Me, I'm wondering if it has anything to do with the jacket copy. I'm not too fond of jacket copy at the best of times, but this baby's got a particularly bad first sentence:

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.

If I'd picked this up in a bookstore, I'd probably have put it right back down. I mean, yes, copy tends to be corny. (That's one of the reasons I have so much trouble summarizing things. Plot summaries are essentially copy, and I don't want to get sucked into the moral vacuum that is modern corniness). But seriously? "The moral vacuum that is modern life?" Who okayed this?

I can't bring myself to even attempt a fancy summary, given my own reaction to the jacket copy, so I'll just tell you straight out what it's about. (You probably know already. THE GARGOYLE may be tiny in the world at large, but it's big in the blogosphere). A pornographer is in a rogalian car accident that leaves him badly burnt. While he's in the hospital, he meets a woman who claims that the two of them were lovers in medieval Germany. She starts to tell him their story. The book proceeds from there.


It's a shame it hasn't caught on, really, because the book is very good. (The author's also a local, from where I stand. Horray for Manitobans who make good!) The prose is sometimes a tad purple, but it fits with the narrator's voice. This is a decidedly Gothic novel, my dears.

Most reviews seem to emphasize what a sleezebag the dude is. (He's never named, by the way. Davidson sometimes resorts to rather elaborate measures to ensure that his name won't enter into things). And you know what? He is a sleezebag. He's an addict. He makes a living by writing, directing and acting in pornos. His main hobby is seducing regular (read: non-porn star) women. He spends much of his time in the burn ward lamenting his lost beauty and planning an elaborate suicide. He lashes out at anyone who tries to help him.

But you know what else? He's also personable and easy to like. He writes from the heart. He's frank about what he's done and how it's affected him. He goes to great lengths to tell us how cynical he is, but I got the impression that he was mostly trying to convince himself. He's not nearly as bad as he wants you to think he is. And deny it though he might, he really does grow as a person as the book roles along.

The supporting characters are also pretty durned interesting. Nan, Gregor and Sayuri each begin as caricatures, because that's how the cynical, world-hating narrator wants to see them. As he grows to know them, though, they become real people with their own pressing concerns. I loved all the little ways the narrator pushed and prodded them.

And Marianne, his seven-hundred-year-old lover, is a treat from the very beginning. She's a fascinating character. Is she mad? Is she really seven hundred years old? The narrator says no, but his story tells us that he's not so sure himself. Marianne herself tells her story with absolute conviction. She never wavers, even when faced with doubt from all sides. She's also responsible for all the historical stories woven in and around the narrator's own tale. She tells them the story of their life together, of course, but she also shares love stories featuring some of her friends - said friends being Italian, English, Japanese and Icelandic ghosts. The three storylines - the narrator's experiences, the historical love stories and Marianne's reminiscences - blend together very nicely. I was simultaneously sad when one storyline left off and pleased because I got to return to another.

I also appreciated the context here. Davidson has a concrete context for the book, and the narrator's approach reflects this. Y'all know I'm obsessed with rather particular about context. I always appreciate authors who take it into account.

I definitely recommend this. I didn't find it as OMG AMAZING as most of the blogosphere, but I had a wonderful time with it. I think you will, too. Ignore the ghastly copy and trundle on over to your local bookshop. (Or fire up your Amazon. Whatever works for you). Help Andrew Davidson earn back that massive advance.

3.5 stars

Strange Asides:

I do have one pathetic little quibble with the book: the narrator always always always refers to Marianne by her full name. It's Marianne Engel this and Marianne Engel that. I think he calls her just Marianne maybe twice, both times in conversation. This annoyed the bloody fuck out of me. Full names are so very stereotypical high school:

"Ohmigawd, did you see what Jenny Tarvin was wearing yesterday?"

"I know, it was so totally last week. Did Sarah Neville text you last night?"

"Omigawd, she was totally on about David Stephens and his rock hard abs."

"Sarah Neville is soooooo right. Seriously, every time David Stephens looks at me, I feel like I'm gonna pass out. Seriously."

Etc. etc.

I'm sure Davidson did it to make some deep, meaningful point, but it didn't fly for me.

Challenge Stuff:

999 Challenge - I'm counting this as one of my Miscellaneous Fiction reads.

Chunkster Challenge - I've already completed the challenge, in the strictest sense, but I figure I'll keep going. I want to beat my rather pathetic (for me) total of twenty-four from last year. Many of the chunksters I read are inadmissible for the challenge, being either YA or short fiction collections, but I read plenty of long novels, too. I want to tally 'em all up.

Other Reviews:

A Novel Menagerie
Bermudaonion's Weblog
The Book Lady's Blog
Books For Breakfast - Book Reviews With A Twist
Books On the Brain
Devourer of Books
Fyrefly's Book Blog
In the Shadow of Mt. TBR
The Literate Housewife Review
Medieval Bookworm
Muse Book Reviews
My Journey Through Reading
Reading Matters
Sadie-Jean's Book Blog
Shhh I'm Reading
So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Tripping Towards Lucidity: Estella's Revenge
The Written World

I know I've missed some. If yours was one of them, please let me know so I can link to it.
Historical Fiction
19th-Mar-2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I guess by mainly hanging around the blogosphere, I'm getting a distorted view of how books are actually doing in the real world. I had no idea this one wasn't selling well, since the Gargoyle-mania that swept through the book blogs (mine included) last fall. I wonder why? Surely it can't *just* be the cover copy...

(Here's the link to my review: http://fyreflybooks.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/andrew-davidson-the-gargoyle/)
19th-Mar-2009 02:20 pm (UTC)
I heard about the sales problems in my local paper; they did a brief piece on it a few weeks back, since Davidson lives here and has received favourable reviews in the local press. I was surprised too, since I have yet to read a negative review for it. Everyone seems to love this book.

I've linked to your review now, along with a ton of others I found through your most excellent book blog search engine. :)
19th-Mar-2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
Oh goodness, and I thought it sold really well considering all the book reviews in the blogosphere! Also, I saw it here in the Philippines practically within the same time frame that reviews started coming out and that's when I told myself it's probably an international bestseller and all that. Oh well, I'm still waiting for the sale month here before I get my copy :)
20th-Mar-2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
I think industry professionals and those who got ARCs ate it up, but book buyers? Not so much. Sigh. It really is too bad. This is a wonderful book.
19th-Mar-2009 09:15 pm (UTC) - bookworm
I have heard of this one before. It does sound interesting, even if it isnt too popular in the U.S.
Great review. The full name thing is annoying though.

20th-Mar-2009 03:34 pm (UTC) - Re: bookworm
I suppose the year is young. There's still time for it to catch on.
21st-Mar-2009 08:13 pm (UTC)
I've heard both good and bad things aboout this one. I haven't read it yet though and I haven't decided if I'm going to or not.
21st-Mar-2009 10:01 pm (UTC)
If you're not 100% sure about it, you could always try the library. I get almost all my hardcovers there, as I'm scared to shell out lots of money for something I might not enjoy. :)
12th-Apr-2009 02:35 pm (UTC) - Lisamm
Hi Stella! Somehow I missed this post! Great review. I never noticed the "Marianne Engel" thing- always using the last name- as I was reading the book, but now that you mention it, it was very 'high school' and I wonder why he did that! Thanks for linking my review.
12th-Apr-2009 06:15 pm (UTC) - Re: Lisamm
Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words about the review!
22nd-Apr-2009 12:44 pm (UTC)
It's funny how little things a writer does can be irksome to one reader and totally missed by another. I never noticed the full-name thing either. I really enjoyed reading your review, it's the first one I've read for awhile on The Gargoyle.

This is one of my Top 10 favorite books, and it is really sad that it's so overlooked. I thought Davidson's writing was beyond amazing, and I've been thinking about re-reading the book. I'd never thought about what the jacket cover said or how that might be perceived by potential readers. That sentence is dense and high on the "Huh?" factor.
23rd-Apr-2009 12:42 pm (UTC)
I do hope he's able to sell another book. He's been doing a lot of appearances around the city, so at least he's getting lots of local publicity.
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