three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-The GargoyleCanadian Andrew Davidson, who received a whopping $1.2 million advance for this debut novel, claims he wrote The Gargoyle because publishing a book was an item on a list of things he wanted to accomplish during his life. He admits that the list is still very long.

The Story: High on cocaine, a successful porn star drives his car off a cliff and remains trapped inside when it bursts into flames. Severely burned, he undergoes excruciating, life-saving treatments, looking forward to the day he is well enough to leave the hospital and commit suicide. Then a mysterious sculptress of gargoyles, Marianne Engel, visits him and claims to know him. He begins to look forward to her regular visits, during which she distracts him from his pain with fantastic tales of passion and adventure, finally sharing with him the story of their own romance in medieval Germany. In spite of his own skepticism and rumors that she is unbalanced, he finds himself falling in love.
Doubleday. 468 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0385524943

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s something unique, a tale both cynically modern and swashbucklingly historical. … The writing is vibrant, the characters sharply etched." Robin Vidimos

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Andrew Davidson’s sometimes cringe-inducing yet spellbinding debut novel, The Gargoyle, mixes medieval symbolism, Christian allegory, and a Dantean journey to the underworld in order to tell a transcendent love story. … As bad as Davidson’s prose can be, his story is an unalloyed escapist fantasy, a page-turning adventure that will keep you reading well past bedtime." Chuck Leddy

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"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. … And it turns out to be as seductive as it is overweening." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This is a story for people who like their literary entertainment well done. … The Christian mythology gets a bit heavy toward the end, and The Gargoyle is overcooked by at least 75 pages, but nothing is certain in this swirling novel of tales and legends." Ron Charles

Dallas Morning News 3 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Davidson … knows how to tell a story, how to withhold and reveal details at the right time. … But [he] also has the novice fiction writer’s inability to self-edit, to toss out both the needlessly clever and the tiresomely familiar." Charles Matthews

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"The Canadian Mr. Davidson … strains to play in the same league as Umberto Eco, but The Name of the Rose this is not. … Working with a palette of recurring symbols—fire, water, arrowheads, hearts—Mr. Davidson paints an engaging if not scintillating tableau." Kyle Smith

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Davidson’s lovers are dysfunctional and quirky, qualities that can look a bit like profundity from a distance, but they don’t have emotional or imaginative depth or range, which at the end of the day are the only things that can make a love story deep and wide-ranging. … Like most first novels, The Gargoyle does some things well and some things badly, and it does lots and lots of them because the author hasn’t yet figured out which ones will work." Sophie Gee

Critical Summary

In his "defiantly uncategorizable" (New York Times) debut, Andrew Davidson proves himself a consummate storyteller. He skillfully shifts from present to distant past while balancing the more fantastic elements of his plot (dragons and mysticism) with graphic depictions of the trauma and treatments endured by burn victims. Some critics found the novel mesmerizing, while others complained of awkward prose and unconvincing characters. The Gargoyle’s debt to Dante’s Inferno echoes throughout the novel, and Davidson displays a thorough knowledge of medieval Christian symbolism and allegory. This understanding charmed some critics but alienated others, who considered such literary trappings heavy-handed. Those who enjoyed the novel most were able to suspend their disbelief and overlook a novice writer’s gaffes. Readers who can do the same will not be disappointed.