Read this book. Read it. Just shut up and read it, already. Are you reading it? Why not? I told you to read it!
“But it’s yucky!” you complain. “The narrator gets all burned and gross, and he’s mean, and what’s up with the crazy lady?”
All right, yes, I will grant you, the first few chapters are incredibly difficult to get through, particularly if you have a delicate stomach. The unnamed narrator does, indeed, get in a horrific car crash where he is terribly, almost fatally, burnt. What follows is a stomach-turningly graphic depiction of what goes on in a burn ward. Stephen King would probably turn green at some of these scenes. You will be tempted to set “The Gargoyle” down and walk away. But I’m begging you to come back. Your suffering will be rewarded.
This is what Marianne claims, as she enters the narrator’s life in the gown of a psychiatric patient at the hospital. She is jealous of his pain, as she believes that it means God has not forgotten him. Marianne is 700 years old, born in the year 1300 and raised in a convent. She is overjoyed when she meets the scarred narrator, as she believes that he is her long-dead lover returned to her. She then must set about convincing him of her story: of how the two fell in love all those years ago and how they were separated, about her divine mission to set her hearts free by carving huge gargoyles out of stone, and about the redemptive powers of love, suffering, and sacrifice.
So much happens in this book I don’t even know how to start describing it. Marianne takes the narrator in and begins telling him stories. Interspersed with the tale of her own past are four other short love stories, set in eras and locations as varied as feudal Japan, medieval Italy, Victorian England, and Viking Iceland. These stories weave in and out of the main one, forming tentative connections and complementing its themes. Literary classics are alluded to as well, most notably Dante’s Inferno. People suffer and die (or not), they sacrifice everything they have for love, they create powerful art and watch it destroyed, they journey to the underworld, and they approach God. And through it all are the two lynchpins of this book, love and pain, forever entwined, each intensifying the other, unwanted and unlooked for but present in every page.
This is quite simply one of the most powerful, intense, gripping, and captivating books I have read in a long time. Maybe it’s too intense for some readers; I can tell already from the reviews that many are put off by this love story between the disfigured misanthrope and the schizophrenic artist. But if you have the strength to shoulder the burdens Andrew Davidson places on the reader, I promise, your suffering will be rewarded.