Friday, April 1, 2011

Review: 'The Gargoyle' by Andrew Davidson

I've got a confession to make: I don't know of very many Canadian authors. Seriously, the only one I can think of is John McCrae, who wrote the famous poem "In Flanders Field" as a tribute to the fallen soldiers of a terrible First World War battle. In 1915. And then came Andrew Davidson.

Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle came to me through one of my husband's remodeling customers, Juanita. She and I got to talking about books when I went with my husband to swap out a medicine cabinet in her bathroom. Juanita's adult son had read the book, then sent it to her, insisting she had to read it. She allowed me to take her hardcover copy home with me. It was on my to-read list for at least nine months, but I finally got around to it.

Juanita's son was not wrong: this book is a must-read. It opens with a young porn star, a narrator whom Davidson never gives a name, who drives his car off a cliff in a stupid act of drunken driving. The resulting auto fire burns most of his body; only the car's falling into a creek saves him from near-instant death. He spends 8 months in a burn ward, recovering and making an unlikely friend in Marianne, a visitor from the hospital's psychiatric ward. Marianne claims to be over 700 years old and swears she knows the narrator from a previous lifetime.

What unfolds over the course of the narrator's recovery is an epic spanning from medieval times to the present, including a cast of characters from feudal Japan, the Scandinavia of the Vikings, Italy at the time of the Black Plague and German monastic life. Each time and place is the setting of a striking love story. Throughout the novel, Davidson weaves in elements of Dante's Inferno.

Given that the narrator is a porn star, it comes as a bit of a surprise that this novel has so much heart. Although it never becomes overly sentimental, it does espouse a theme of eternal love. Think Francis Ford Coppolla's Bram Stoker's Dracula. It's up to the reader to determine whether this 700-year romance is actual or delusional.

What's even more astonishing is that this is Davidson's debut novel. If Canadians are going to write books like this, then we Americans need to pay more attention to them.

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