Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (mixed-genre novel)

A drunk porn actor gets in a car accident, which results in burns all over his body. (The liquor he was drinking, and spilled in his lap, flares up and does an especially bad number on his penis, leaving him with little more than a flap of skin).

During his recover in the hospital, a possibly schizophrenic gargoyle sculptor named Marianne Engel visits him regularly, saying she knows him from when she was a nun working in a monastery scriptorium (a room dedicated to Bible translation and transcription) in the 14th century. Marianne tells him stories of their life together 700 years ago, as well as myriad other stories from her multilingual experience.

The Gargoyle is a completely immersive experience. Author Andrew Davidson's debut — the product of seven years of research and writing — has something for everyone: history, horror, mystery, religion, romance, terrific storytelling, and well-crafted prose.

The story of Marianne Engel and the unnamed narrator/protagonist is one of and for the ages. Not only did reading The Gargoyle entertain and literarily satisfy me, but its breadth of scope and Davidson's unconventional style (including humor that ranges from the subtle to the laugh-out-loud — there's even a throwaway Caddyshack reference that will get past a lot of people) inspired me to try new things in my own writing.

As Marianne herself states at one point, "It was apparent from the start that the writing was unlike anything I'd ever read." The Gargoyle combines portions of Dante's Inferno, the One Thousand Nights and a Night, the Gnaden-vita, the Bible, and likely others I simply didn't recognize. It is multilayered and multilingual, and even though the novel sometimes asks a little much in the realm of suspension of disbelief, Davidson never stretches plausibility too far, especially once you give yourself over to its mythic structure and its motif of arrows and fire.

Lincoln Hoppe reads the unabridged audiobook of The Gargoyle, and his grasp of the characters is stunning. From Vikings to nuns to a man with a scarred larynx to the "bitch snake" that only morphine will quiet, he offers believable portraits of all of them. And he is not slowed in the least by all the foreign idioms and accents that he is required to master. Hoppe's reading may even make the book more accessible to those that find it a difficult read.

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