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Picking up this book I had been aware of the positive reviews it got and the fact that it ticked a lot of the things I like in books, but I wasn't really sure about much else about it.
I don't think I quite have the words to explain how much I loved this book. There are so many things in it that should have been a turn off for me - the unnamed narrator, the overly graphic depictions of some truly horrendous stuff, the unanswered questions, the at times unlikeable actions of people but despite it, I loved every aspect of it.
The book starts with our unnamed narrator, a handsome man of ill-repute who forges his living as a successful pornographer who lives for nothing more than sex, vanity and his next drug induced high. He gets in a car whilst high on drugs and alcohol and has a hallucination that he's being shot by flaming arrows and crashes the car. The crash is told in graphic details where every severed toe and every inch of bubbled, charred flesh is described in excruciating detail that makes you flinch as you read. The handsome man is burned, scarred and mutilated and only a tree and river save him from being killed.
While he is recovering from his gruesome injuries (told in excruciating detail) he plots on how he will kill himself when he leaves the hospital, but before he can put his plans in action, he gets a visitor. Enter Marianne Engel who enters his room, proclaiming that he's been burnt 'again' and that this is the third time he'd been burnt and she proceeds to begin a story that lasts the whole book where she recounts their lives together.
Marianne and the narrator form a bond, and he finds his thoughts turn less towards suicide and more towards when her next visit will be and eventually she insists he comes to stay with her in her home.
On many levels, the whole story shouldn't work. It's very dark in places, very violent in places and it does get a bit bizarre, but it is so well written that it just works. You are both reluctant and desperate to read on because you want them to eventually find their happily ever after, but at the same time, you get the sense that it won't be that easy and that ultimately, you won't be satisfied. They are the epitome of a tragic love story.
The theme of the book is redemption and earning your heaven and although you wish the characters didn't need to suffer so much, you understand it. There's the exploration of faith - whether of the religious variety, or whether it's okay to take a chance on a seemingly mentally ill woman and believe her stories when all evidence points to the contrary. There's so much to this book - so many layers that I want to re-read and explore again because I know I probably didn't grasp it the way it deserved first time through.
I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone. It has rapidly become one of my all time favourite books and I envision I will be reading it many times in the years to come.
The Gargoyle is half fantasy, half gritty modern day love story. It focus' around a young man, who was a talented pornographer, at the height of a rather unstable carrear, addicted to drugs, and trying ot escape a troubled childhood. One night, driving whilst under the influence of alchohol and drugs, he crashes his car, and only just escapes with his life. Lying in a hospital bed, burnt beyond recognition, he is visited by a strange, seemingly crazy women, who claims she knew him in a former life. As their relationship develops, and she tells him more of his "other life" in 14th centurary Germany, it becomes harder to tell exactly what is true, and what is just a story.
The Gargoyle explores issues of religion, love, beauty and death, and is heavily intertwined with Dante's inferno. The novel has been very well researched, in every aspect, from detailed description of Burn Therapy, to life in a 14th Century Monastery.
This book makes for a gripping and beautiful read.
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson is without a doubt, one of the best books I have ever had the fortune to read. In fact it's so good that it literally fell apart as I was reading it. As if self destructing so no one else could cast their eyes upon its magnificence.
The tale of this book is not just one, but many. A series of stories stretching back through time and space, yet all starting with one man and his horrible car accident.
The book is written in the first person. Apparently narrated by the author, telling the story of his life shortly after a rather horrific drug-induced car accident in which he is horribly burnt and disfigured. Except of course, it is a work of fiction. The author is not the grotesque wreck of a human being he portrays, but a handsome bloke living somewhere in Canada. Yes, he's Canadian, which is a breath of fresh air on its own.
So, the story kicks off with the hair-melt, penis-burning, unrelenting fire destroying the main characters body and then continues with his recovery. This might not sound like the most interesting story in the world, but it gets better, trust me.
The nature of the injuries and the actual events are so well described that it's hard to believe the author did not actually experience them for himself. Considering it is his first book, it is thoroughly impressive.
We follow the character, who remains nameless, through his painful recovery. Though he will never fully recover, as his once handsome features are burnt and withered beyond recognition. But it is the story of his recovery and the meeting of a very strange woman which will be grip the reader in the end.
A woman appears in the hospital, apparently completely mad and obsessed with him in ways he cannot understand, yet there is something about her that stands out. She knows something about him that he cannot understand, there is a connection.
Somehow, their lives become entwined and as he recovers in his hospital bed, she regails him with tales of far off lands in forgotten times. Vikings, German nuns and much more. A time when they apparently lived another life. Their souls connected.
Sure, it sounds like a book for the girls and perhaps it is, but there is much more to it. With no penis and a fresh outlook on life, the character gives us a deep insight into the world we live in, while touching on an entire fantasy world. Religion is touched upon and has undertones throughout the book, although you certainly get the impression that the author himself is not religious. He is well-read though and the book, although ficticious, is clearly well researched.
The great works of philosophers and books such as Dante's Inferno are mentioned, not just in passing, but as an integral part of the story.
Despite being written in the first person, The Gargoyle is extremely well penned and cleverly written. The author writes the perspective of his main character, but also let's the words of his strange companion make up other chapters as she tells the tales of ages gone by. It leads to a thoroughly interesting and enthralling read. Vibrant and varied. Clever and witty.
I cannot say much for fear of spoiling the story, but I can confidently say, whatever your personal tastes, this is a book you will enjoy.
I just finished reading The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson and I have to say that I immensely enjoyed it. This is Andrew Davidson's debut novel and yet it is written with the sophistication and poise of a seasoned author and oozes confidence and charm. It is a cross between a fantasy novel, a historical epic and a modern-day-triumph-over-adversity story - and so its very hard to say where I would place this book in terms of genre. In many ways, it is the fact that this book cannot be easily slotted into any particular genre that is a testament to its uniqueness and the fact that it does not re-churn the tried-and-tested plots that many books tend to do today.
The book focuses on the central characters of the narrator (un-named) and Marianne Engel. We pick up the story from where the narrator is horrifically burnt in a car accident and is admitted into a burns unit for treatment. This part of the book is very graphic as it takes you through the details of his treatments, as well as the thoughts of the narrator who makes it clear that he is waiting for the day when he can end his life. He can see no point of living, being horrifically disfigured and disabled. Prior to his accident he was a successful pornographic actor / director and so his looks were all important - and so having these taken away from him, especially without the support of any friends or family, he believes suicide is the only option......and so enters Marianne Engels into his life.
Marianne is a patient in the psychiatric wing of the hospital. A vibrant, charasmatic yet somewhat disturbed and erratic woman who befriends the burnt man and who tells him stories in which she claims to have known the man for over 700 years. Our narrator believes that Marianne is creating a fiction as she is schizophrenic or manic depressive - but as the story unravels, the line between reality and fiction becomes more and more blurred and we, as the reader, are also left questioning the validity of the story that she is sharing.
While Marianne is immediately likable in her enthusiasm and quirkiness, the narrator is someone that grew on me and someone that I came to like and respect. Although I class part of this book to be about triumph over adversity, it is not the type of book where you're going to be left feeling rosy - but despite its fantasy elements, it also has a big dose of realism running through its pages which makes the story more and more compelling.
I found The Gargoyle to be hugely readable and I would recommend it to anyone who likes a good read. There are religious elements running through the story, as well as themes related to, and questioning, ethics, morality, truth, life, death etc. but the narration is not "heavy" or complicated. This is a great debut novel.
This is a wonderful debut novel by Andrew Davidson, it is shockingly descriptive yet powerfully compelling. Once you start reading it you won't want to put it down. It is a story of love in the face of traumatic adversity and pain.They say don't judge a book by it's cover, but an added bonus to this book is it's beautiful embossed cover, it is a thoughtful design and it feels nice to hold... it just shows the extra bit of thought that has gone into making this book appealing to all.
Why i read it...
I used to belong to a book group, and one of our members decided they'd pick this one for their month.
I seem to remember that it was on Richard and Judy's booklist at the time, and that is how it came to our attention.
I brought a copy instantly as i really liked the cover. The pages of the book have black edging, which i found really appealing. The very vivid red cover, with black edged pages just made me want to pick it up and read it.
I really enjoy fantasy type novels. Terry Brooks is my favourite author, so i like the strange and unusual. I'm not adverse to creatures and using your imagination to get to grips with a story.
I can tell you from the outset that this has been one of the best books i have read in a few years.
A tiny bit about the story...
This is a thriller, and you do have to think, you can't just read, you have to get involved.
The book follows a present day porn star who is very badly burned. He is the narrator of one half of the story, but you never know his name, which when you finish feels a little odd.
The story is quite graphic in terms of what happens to him when he is injured, this really put one of my fellow book clubbers off, and she couldn't get into it after that. However, i would say the rest of the book is pretty tame in terms of grusomeness - it does reappear every so often when they talk about his treatement, If you're squeemish, then maybe skip these parts.
He develops a relationship with a woman, Marianne. I don't want to make suggestions as to who or what Marianne is, as i believe part of the beauty of this story is that you make up your own mind - there are several options as to how she exists, and your own imagination should decide this.
Alongside the porn star's story, Marianne tells love stories from the past. A history develops of different characters recurrent through history. There are two parallel stories running alongside one another.
The Gargoyle - Marianne is a stonemason and creates Gargoyles. She almost describes them as souls being released from the stone, she says she doesn't create them, that they are there already. They are almost an integral part of the book, but not, it is a little strange how they feature. They become much more apparent towards the end.
There is romance, tragedy, love, health, friendship and all the strands of a good novel.
I could not believe this was a debut novel. How you would follow this, i have no idea. It would appear that the author hasn't yet managed to do so, but i would love to read any follow up novel from him. He is Canadian and apparently took 7 years to write this book.
The book has been a New York Times Bestseller. I just did a quick Google to see if it has won any awards, but i couldn't see any.
I had a look at one of the author's sites, and his favourite book list reads very similar to mine, so perhaps that is why i really enjoyed this book. It states that the author likes - Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Perfume (excellent film, watch if you get the chance), The Bone People, Jane Eyre and Frankenstein, amongst others.
You do get a feel of Dante's Peak and Greek Legends throughout. However, this is an original storyline, contemporary mixed with historical. There are many subtexts and very clever use of language and symbolism. You can pay attention to these or ignore them - i noticed some around life and death which i found fascinating. The look at medieval religion i also found really interesting.
I would highly recommend this book. It is fairly long. Ideal for a long plane or train journey or for a very wet weekend. Read it in November when you have the fire lit and it is pouring with rain outside - i guarantee this will add to the ambiance!!
The Gargoyle is one of those books that always looked intriguing on the shelves. It may be because the edges of the book are coloured black, or because it has 'THE INTERNATIONAL BEST SELLER' at the top of the front cover. It could even be because it's in bright red. Whatever it is, there is something that drew me into it, to want to find out more.
In the end, I borrowed a copy from a friend, who said that she hadn't really enjoyed it, had struggled to engage with the characters and was a little unsure what to make of it. In a way, this just intrigued me even more, since I'd read mainly positive reviews - so I tried to read it with an open mind. I finished it last night, and I can now understand all of my friend's thoughts. However, she had left out the positives, of which there are many.
The book is about a man (a pornstar), the narrator, who is horrifically burned during a car accident. Trying to avoid spoilers, I think it's safe to tell you that when he is recovering in hospital, he is visited by a strange lady (Marianne), who may or may not be schizophrenic - they fall in love and the story unfolds.
The chapters flip between our narrator, and Marianne telling the story of their past lives. Which takes a little getting used to, since both are told in the first person, but with Marianne's side written as if she is speaking directly to the narrator. It's a unique style and creative of the writer, Andrew Davidson, but I'm not sure it works as effectively as he intended.
This style of writing does lead to you feeling slightly detached from the two principal characters and the supporting cast of doctors handling our friend's treatment for his burns.
That said, the story is absurdly engrossing. It is really imaginative, with the author guiding you through the current story and interweaving the stories told by Marianne. There are large chunks of fact, and Davidson has obviously spent a large amount of time studying medieval history, religion, burns treatment, schizophrenia. Looking at that list, it's no wonder the book takes some time to get used to.
It's very unusual to find a novel and think that it would work better as a movie, but as I got further into the book I couldn't help thinking that this was the case with The Gargoyle. I could imagine the characters coming to life on screen, and the warmth and imagery the writer has tried to display showing itself more clearly on film. It would take two brilliant performances to make it work, but I think that is the future of this book.
The Gargoyle gives an intriguing insight into what is important in love. How decisions can affect your life, and how we look at one another. It's an impressive book in many ways but when I finished it, I didn't feel like I'd lost a friend, like you can when you finish a truly great book. I felt, as my friend did, unsure of where this fit. I couldn't really place whether I'd truly enjoyed it.
I guess the issue is that the two principle characters are generally quite unloveable. They are unique and perfectly crafted with distinct imagineable personalities, but they aren't likeable. And while Davidson makes an admirable attempt at turning this on it's head, I'm not convinced I ever reached the point where I had an empathy for either the narrator or Marianne.
I liked this book. I could even say I enjoyed it at points and found it easy to move through. But it's not a book I'd be comfortable recommending. Maybe I'll just suggest that people wait for the movie...
'The Gargoyle' is written by Andrew Davidson and was first published in 2008.
The book is narrated by the main character. You are not told the narrators name, which is understood more as you go through the book. I don't want to say too much about that as it will give the whole plot away!!
The opening chapter tells you of a car crash that the narrator is involved in, of which he is horrifically burned beyond recognition. He is admitted to a burns recovery unit of where he will be for many months.
For a few months he is on the burns recovery unit with no visitors. This is explained by the narrator that as he used to be a well known porn star, due to his injuries, none of the people from his life want, or needed, to be involved in the narrators life anymore. He can no longer be involved in porn and he is not making the money anymore, therefore he is on his own.
A woman called Marianne Engel starts to visit him. She was admitted to the psychiatric ward, and the doctors on the burns unit are not pleased with her visits to him at first, but after time because she does not stop visiting, they no longer voice their objections.
As you get through the book the narrator tells you that Marianne states that herself and the narrator have lived before in past lives and were tremendously in love and that they are bound together.
Each chapter of the book is a story of the both of them, in the present day and past. The present day is narrated by the burns victim and the past is narrated by Marianne. It is a story of love through the ages.
I have to say that when I picked this book up to buy, you do not get a feel about what the book is about as the synopsis does not tell you a lot, so you are unsure of what to expect.
I felt that the story is a good base and interesting, the narrative aspect I also really enjoyed as you can easily absorb the information quickly and easily. It's just like having a person in the room verbally telling you the story!
Even though I found the story interesting, I was not captured by this book. I felt that the story, even though interesting, was lacking in any solid foundation. It seemed a little loose and just seemed to drag on a little too long. Half way through the book you knew what the story was about, but the last half of the book just seemed to repeat what you had just read and took forever to come to the conclusion.
I don't think it is a bad book (I did finish reading it!!!), but it could have done with a bit more umph (!) for me.
Having had a recommendation to read this book and being intrigued by the premise I was looking forward to reading this black-edged book.
The story starts off with the narrator talking to us, extremely graphically, about his horrendous car accident which has left him with extremely severe and life-changing burns.
He then meets a woman who claims they knew each other in past life some 700 years previously.
The story winds on with the recovery of the un-named narrator and also the many stories that his new friend, Marianne, relates to him. Some are about their past lives together and other are deeply passionate tales of love, redemption, death and faith.
I really enjoyed this highly original and gripping story.
At times, the narrator is unsympathetic however you grow to understand him and to feel more for him during his journey.
The book is very intriguing and I was trying to second guess the 'twist' right up until the end.
There are a lot of profound thoughts, throughout the book and has some challenging opinons on love and loss and hope. It definitely made me think and I often had to stop reading the book in order to process the ideas and to think about my own position.
I think this is a great book for anyone who enjoys an intelligent, but readable, story. It has brilliant characters and the writer has painted such clear pictures that it comes alive as you read it.
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson tells the story of a young man, horrifically burned in a car accident.
Lucky to be alive and horrendously disfigured, he undergoes extensive treatment on a burn ward in hospital, all the while waiting for the day he will be released and can end his life.
Then in walks Marianne Engel, a woman completely unknown to the young man. She approaches his hospital bed, leans over and whispers " You've been burned ... again."
Claiming to have known and loved our protagonist 700 years ago in medieval Germany we are took on a journey through the present and past.
The first thing I'd like to note here is the appearance of the book itself. I wouldn't normally cover this in a book review, however on this occasion feel it is worthwhile. I have the paperback edition, published in January 2009 by Canongate Books and is the most beautiful paperback I have come across. Deep red covers, covered with tiny gold arrows and flaming heart, through which the scroll reads " love is as strong as death, as hard as hell" and completely blacked out page edges giving the impression of being burned. It immediately strikes me as being powerful, dark and Gothic.
The story is told in the main, in the first person by our unnamed narrator. Before the car accident which resulted in him being so badly burned, he was a beautiful man, a star and maker of pornographic movies, and a habitual drug user.
The first few chapters, covering his treatment on a burn ward are extremely graphic, and great detail is took to describe the healing and treatment process the body undergoes to recover from severe burns. This often isn't pleasant and made me feel queezy at times.
If your expecting a story of someone defying death, getting a second chance and redeeming themselves through adversity, becoming a 'nice person' that isn't what the story is about. The narrator is extremely bitter about his situation, and meticulously plans his suicide. While it doesn't make him particularly endearing I liked this realism, being a cynic myself I could understand this. He calls the demon voice inside himself, that whispers all the negative but truthful things to him his 'bitchsnake', and describes it as a serpent entwined round his spine.
Marianne Engel, plain crazy or ethereal (it's difficult to know), seeks him out, claiming they where lovers 700 years ago. The stories into the medieval past are told from Marianne but are easily distinguished. They are beautifully written and are the parts I enjoyed most about the book. As well as telling the story of their past life, Marianne also tells a number of other stories along the way, all with a historical, mythical, folklore theme, but most of all telling the agonies of forbidden Love. What could have easily been a distraction are in fact absolutely magical tales in their own right, and I thoroughly enjoyed these interludes. They do serve a purpose to the story, eventually.
The story has a large religious theme running through it, however don't let this put you off. it's very dark, and while I don't want to give too much away, Dante's 'Inferno' is a big feature throughout this book.
While I found the book fascinating, particularly the second half, I couldn't help but feel that there was something just stopping this book from being truly spellbinding and breathtaking (and a five star book). I think the passion between The Narrator and Marianne Engel just wasn't as much as it should be. I really wanted to feel more chemistry between the two characters but felt it wasn't quite there. This made some of the modern day relationship difficult to believe in. However, singularly both characters are complex and very well developed.
It's difficult to know which genre to place this book. It's historical, it's modern. It's mystical and it's fantasy. But most of all it's a love story.
This is Andrew Davidson's début novel and one which I would recommend, unless of course you are very squeamish. Even then I would urge you to bare with it, as you will be rewarded with a magical, original and fascinating read. I will definitely be looking out for further novels by this author.
As a side note, I have read from an unreliable source on the Internet that a film is to be made of this book and Johnny Depp will play the narrator. I have to say that the part was surely made for him. I can't find anything reliable however, so you maybe wondering why I included this information. I just feel that the rumoured actor sums up the character perfectly.
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
ISBN 978 1 84767 169 1
The title of this review is from the front cover of the book. It seems to sum it up nicely. Just to give you an idea of the narrative style, The Gargoyle opens with the following lines:
'Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love. It was Good Friday and the stars were just starting to dissolve into the dawn. As I drove, I stroked the scar on my chest, by habit. My eyes were heavy and my vision unfocused, not surprising given that I'd spent the night hunched over a mirror snorting away the bars of white powder that kept my face trapped in the glass. I believed I was keening my reflexes. I was wrong.' (page 1, The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson).
The opening chapter thrusts the startled reader into a graphic description of the unnamed narrator whose car plunges down a steep embankment after he thinks he sees flaming arrows flying towards him. The narrator, a once beautiful porn star, high on drink and drugs is burnt beyond recognition, and is transformed into the gargoyle of the title. Significantly this happens on a Good Friday, which begins the narrator's metaphorical journey into hell, with many references to Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.
The story of the narrator is clearly linked to Dante's poem. Inferno begins the night before Good Friday and finishes the Wednesday after Easter in 1300. It tells the story of Dante's journey through the three realms of the dead. Dante is lost in a dark wood, morally passing the point of no return, conscious that he is ruining himself and falling into a 'deep place'. He is rescued by Virgil and together they begin their journey to the Underworld (sourced from Wikipedia). The narrator, similarly is morally falling into a 'deep place', when he falls literally down the embankment and burns. The novel follows his journey of recovery, with graphic and thoroughly researched descriptions of the agonizing treatment that burn victims undergo.
During his recovery in the burns ward, he contemplates suicide, until he is visited by a schizophrenic patient Marianne Engel who wanders in from another ward. Marianne claims to have know him in a previous life in the 1300's where he was a hardbitten soldier in the Condotta, a band of Italian mercenaries. She informs him that this is the third time he has been burned and she first knew met him at a German monastery called Engelthal where she grew up and became a nun.
Marianne is a sculptor who makes gargoyles, and is also a translator of medieval manuscripts, one of them being Dante's Inferno. She is also heavily tattooed, notably with angel wings on her back. The narrator thinks she is insane, but is enthralled by her and begins to come out of his depression as, over time, she visits and gradually narrates their past life together. She spins this out by also telling him stories of romance in medieval Italy, Victorian London, ancient Japan and Iceland during the time of the Vikings.
There is a theme of enduring love running through each of these stories that seems to link to their own story. Through his extraordinary relationship with Marianne, as she feeds him vast banquets of delicious food along with the stories, the narrator begins to feel a desire to live again. He also feels there's something very familiar about Marianne and wonders if her story could be true.
Marianne Engel is a strong character who shows all the signs of schizophrenia, or perhaps manic depression, and yet her narrative is convincing. She has this enduring and compassionate devotion towards the narrator that I felt could only be because she had loved him before and saw the person inside rather than the burnt shell. I wanted to believe she really was who she said she was.
The narrator is a man who at first is hard to like. We learn that his attitude to women before the accident is casual and without love. He uses them for sex, both in his chosen career and in his private life. Ironically, after the accident, he is no longer capable of anything other than platonic love. But he changes as he goes along, learning important lessons about the true nature of love.
The Gargoyle is narrated in the first person by the unnamed 'gargoyle' of the story. But woven into that are stories about his own past, Marianne's stories told to him in the first person, and stories of the staff that surround him. They all weave together in a way that's fascinating, and I found I could not put the book down until I had completed one of these stories. They are all about love, but not in a way that's sentimental. They are tragic mini histories. Andrew Davidson has a talent for adopting different voices, and for absorbing himself in the minute details of different eras.
I'm not a reader of romantic novels, and I'd hesitate to call this a romance. It's a dark and tortuous journey of the soul filled with fire, murder, plague, suicide, betrayal, food, gargoyles, and sex. It's an ambitous and exhilarating mixture of genres: horror, soft porn, romance and historical mystery. You don't need to have read Inferno to read this (I haven't) but if you haven't, I suggest you spend ten minutes on Wikipedia familiarizing yourself with it, and you'll have a better understanding of The Gargoyle. It's a book I can strongly recommend.
Publisher: This imprint: Canongate Books, 2009. First published in 2008
Number of pages: 499
Amazon price: 3.86
This review is also on Helium under my pen name A Marshall
Title: The Gargoyle
Author: Andrew Davidson
Price: £3.86 for the paperback
I bought this book to while away a few hours when travelling... and couldn't put it down. Now I've read it twice I feel qualified to review it! (and it's wonderful to re-read, because now I have my eyes properly open!)
The Gargoyle tells the story of the recovery of a man hideously disfigured and almost fatally wounded by a car accident. He is visited by a beautiful but insane woman, Marianne, who eases him through his long recovery process by telling him fascinating and mysterious stories about their 14th Century past, and assorted love stories, giving him a reason to live while he contemplates suicide.
"The Gargoyle" is a wonderful title for the book, describing the now-ugly narrator, and also the work of Marianne (a sculptress).
The book is written from the injured man's perspective, as he tells the story of his recovery, and recounts the tales spun for him by the enigmatic Marianne. He is writing the tale of his recovery, after the events described in the book. We never learn his name.
The first few chapters, describing the accident itself, are truly horrific and traumatising to read, as are the chillingly logical thoughts of the suicidal man. The description of his suicide plan is sickening in its completeness. Really, not for the faint hearted. And it is hard to feel sympathy for a character so selfish, conceited and unlovable (before his accident). But the story soon develops from a horror to a touching romance between the beauty and the beast, with the narrator and Marianne's blossoming affection for each other being reflected by the stories and mysteries she weaves for him.
Playing out in the background of the narrator' and Marianne's romance, are a few other characters; namely the doctor, psychiatrist (charmingly described as a chipmunk, upon the first introduction), and the physiotherapist. The love story between Gregor the psychiatrist and Sayuri the physio, as seen by the narrator (from his hospital bed) is very cute.
The book switches between the present day trials and tribulations of surviving a major burn, and the events of hundreds of years ago, as described by Marianne, which I really enjoyed. I love the way the book repeatedly stresses the man's physical beauty before the accident, and compares this to the monster he was inside, and lets the reader discover his inner beauty developing through his love for Marianne. Also, the historical facts, as reported by the narrator from his studies of the events described in Marianne's stories (in an attempt to catch her out in her claim to be 700 years old) are very interesting, and make me want to know more about the periods and places described (and I want to read some of the books mentioned!).
Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, I just couldn't help but continue reading, and the secrets kept me guessing until the very end. All through the book we are presented with compelling evidence for Marianne's insanity, but at the same time her fantastic stories appear to be truthful. Neither the narrator or the reader can decide what to believe, but her character is irresistibly fascinating because of this. I want to know more about her.
As for the biggest mystery of them all? Well, I believe.
A once handsome man (our nameless narrator) awakens in a burns ward remembering that he was in a horrific car accident in which he is burnt beyond recognition and almost beyond repair. Whilst he contemplates life as a monster versus an overwhelming feeling to commit suicide once he is freed from hospital, a strange but beautiful woman enters the ward - the first not to flinch at his appearance - and tells him that this is not the first time they have met and that she will look after him.
Fascinated by this woman, the narrator tells the story of their encounter - and how she believes she can save him as he was burnt before in their previous life together!
When I first started reading this, I almost gave up - the first chapters are fairly dark with rather gruesome details after the car crash of which is almost off-putting: but not quite. In fact the detail of what the body does after a severe burn was quite fascinating - almost like a car crash itself - gruesome but unable to tear your eyes away from the scene of the crime.
In fact, throughout the book, the author has an amazing ability to give beautiful descriptions to horrific and often macabre scenes.
Once I had gotten used to the authors ghastly and quite often stomach churning scenes, the style of writing was extremely enjoyable indeed. I wasn't quite sure - like most readers I should assume - where the book was going, and certainly the blurb on the back of the book really doesn't reveal too much of the content of the rest of the story once the author and the mysterious woman (Marianne Engel) meet. However, most of the chapters end with a cliff-hanger in which you cannot help but want to read more. Marianne knows more about our narrator than she should really know considering he has no recollection that they have ever met and although he thinks someone is playing a cruel trick on him, he is so compelled by her that he wants to learn more about their ancient past - and so did I!
Our narrator is not a character that you warm to easily. He freely admits that he was a beautiful but soul-less person before the accident, a ladies man with no real feelings for anyone he has ever met in his life. Even when he describes the state of his withered body, I winced at the evident accuracy of the pain it must cause, but didn't feel any great compassion for someone who had brought it on himself and who was wasting his life in the way he described before the accident.
However, the introduction of other characters (not just Marianne) brings out a different side to the storyteller and I could see that the accident and these people who had genuine feelings for him brought out the more thoughtful and caring nature in him.
This is really a love story between the author and Marianne Engel -whether their past life in Medieval Germany is real or not, their present relationship is touching and was one of the reasons why I was compelled to read on. Her character is really a captivating one and I became fascinated to see whether she really is a crazy person who believes that she lived in a convent in Germany in the 14th Century, or whether (in the land of fictional books, in case you think I am also crazy!) she is actually telling the truth and they were together in a previous life. Her ability to completely look through the narrators horrific appearance and immediately love him and want to care for him is quite extraordinary, no matter what people say about beauty being only skin deep and so she is quite an intriguing character and one that I wanted to read more about.
Interspersed throughout the book where Marianne is re-telling him of their previous life, she adds in some interesting stories I almost enjoyed this more than Marianne and the narrators history! The story telling is interesting, the characters lively, all about people she has "known" in the past. Somehow she manages to tie all of these little stories of characters into her own history with the narrator.
Quite obviously, the plot is completely bonkers and the mixture of stories, lives and characters can sometimes be a bit overwhelming but its fantastic, rich reading nonetheless. There is a point in the book where the author thinks he has visited hell, and it incorporates all his stories from Marianne. Like the gruesome and clinical explanation of his burns, this was often grim but fascinating reading and the author really does do the macabre aspect of writing so well.
I wouldn't say this was an easy book to get through - I read a comment from the New York Times which said "There are passages to indicate that Davidson has a real talent for close physical description and tight storytelling. The problems come when he lingers on describing feelings and thoughts, which end up sounding thin and unconvincing "I think that is hitting the nail on the head exactly. It has some fabulous story-telling moments and the descriptions are just out of this world, but feeling any kind of strong connection between the characters was lacking somewhat and could have been improved upon.
Having said that, I thought for a debut book it was really remarkable and Is actually unique to most books out there. For those people who don't give up easily on stories and fancy something a bit different, this is a must...