When Marianne Engel walks into the protagonist's hospital room, it is unclear if she is a miracle of long life or an escapee from the psych ward. The narrator, a former porn star, has just suffered massive burns from a car accident, and he's in the worst shape of his life. His beautiful face has been transformed into a scared mess and his pain is horrific. This guy has problems, and the last thing he needs is a crazy woman with wild, red hair telling him that they used to be lovers in their past lives. Or does he?
Marianne begins to shower him with feasts and attention, telling him marvelous stories about different lovers from Iceland, England, Japan, Italy, and medieval Germany. She explains mysterious things about the narrator - like where the scar over his heart came from - that he cannot explain for himself. According to Marianne Engel, they have been lovers for centuries, since Marianne was a nun in an Engelthal convent in medieval Germany. When the narrator recovers enough to be allowed out of the hospital, he moves in with Marianne, the talented, but crazed, sculptress of gargoyles. Here, as the narrator fights his demons and Marianne fashions hers out of stone, they begin to discover what they could mean to each other.
If you can make it through the first 30 pages of intense, occasionally disturbing, descriptions of the narrator's experience in the burn ward, you're in for an absorbing, suspenseful reading experience. The plot and tension evolves through the cynical, derisive tone of the burned narrator and the nostalgic storytelling of Marianne Engel. It becomes clear that this novel can operate on different levels, as the reader constantly asks if Marianne Engel is completely crazy or, marvelously, telling the truth. Davidson maintains the tension and mystery throughout the novel, until the reader is forced to contemplate at the conclusion: why couldn't it be true?
The Gargoyle began to garner attention before it was published when a bidding war erupted between two publishing houses in Canada over rights to the manuscript. Davison would ultimately receive 1.4 million dollars in the sale, which is an incredible sum for a first time, no-name novelist. Davison can now afford to write full time and lives in Canada.
If you like this, you might also like:
The 13th Tale by Diane Setterfield
Possession by A.S. Byatt
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss