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The Gargoyle

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A New York Times Bestseller

The Gargoyle: the mesmerizing story of one man's descent into personal hell and his quest for salvation.

On a dark road in the middle of the night, a car plunges into a ravine. The driver survives the crash, but his injuries confine him to a hospital burn unit. There the mysterious Marianne Engel, a sculptress of grotesques, enters his life. She insists they were lovers in medieval...

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Gargoyle

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Overview

A New York Times Bestseller

The Gargoyle: the mesmerizing story of one man's descent into personal hell and his quest for salvation.

On a dark road in the middle of the night, a car plunges into a ravine. The driver survives the crash, but his injuries confine him to a hospital burn unit. There the mysterious Marianne Engel, a sculptress of grotesques, enters his life. She insists they were lovers in medieval Germany, when he was a mercenary and she was a scribe in the monastery of Engelthal. As she spins the story of their past lives together, the man's disbelief falters; soon, even the impossible can no longer be dismissed.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
[The Gargoyle] has been heavily influenced by some of Mr. Davidson's own favorite authors, who range from Vladimir Nabokov to Patrick Susskind to (go figure) the playful parodist Jasper Fforde. The free-range erudition of books like Possession and The Name of the Rose also come to mind. And the wearyingly popular literary story-within-a-story format is used here to incorporate a wild, seemingly random array of tricks and tangents. But Mr. Davidson binds them together with vigorous and impressive narrative skill.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
likely to ignite the passion of anyone who loves a mix of romance and the macabre…Nothing [the narrator]—or you—can assume about this spectacularly imaginative journey will help navigate its twists and turns. Before it's all over, like Dante before him, our narrator must visit Hades, and like every chapter of The Gargoyle, that's a hell of a story, too.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

The debut from Winnipeg writer Davidson is a sweeping tale of undying love between a burn victim and a sculptress of gargoyles who claims the pair have been lovers throughout ancient times. Brought to life in a spirited yet intensely personal reading by Lincoln Hoppe, the story resonates well beyond the first listen. Hoppe reads with tremendous passion and intensity, never going over the top, but always drawing his audience into the tale with a raw performance. Through suffering, pain, hatred and love, Hoppe captures the very essence of this enthralling tale and allows listeners to journey along wherever the tale goes. A Doubleday hardcover (Reviews, June 16). (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

At a modern-day hospital burn ward, a patient recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident is approached by a woman claiming to have been his lover in another lifetime. Davidson believably weaves historical detail into his first novel, adeptly developing even the most minor characters. Actor/screenwriter Lincoln Hoppe (www.lincolnhoppe.com), meanwhile, performs the lead character's role to perfection with a gravelly, fire-damaged voice, and he incorporates a variety of accents and languages into his narration. Both an excellent piece of literature and an excellent work of narration, this should be considered for purchase by all public libraries. [Audio clip available through library.booksontape.comand www.randomhouse.com/audio; the Doubleday hc, one of the most buzzed about books of the summer, was recommended "for all libraries," LJ6/1/08.-Ed.]
—Johannah Genett

From the Publisher
Advance Praise for The Gargoyle

“I was blown away by Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle. It reminded me of Life of Pi, with its unanswered (and unanswerable) contradictions. A hypnotic, horrifying, astonishing novel that manages, against all odds, to be redemptive."
—Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants

The Gargoyle is purely and simply an amazement, a riot, a blast. It's hard to believe that this is Andrew Davidson's first novel: He barrels out of the chute with the narrative brio and confidence, not to mention the courage, of a seasoned master. This book plucks the reader off the ground and whirls her through the air until she shouts from sheer abandonment and joy. What a great, grand treat.”
—Peter Straub

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307388674
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/4/2009
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 147,902
  • Product dimensions: 5.23 (w) x 7.88 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

ANDREW DAVIDSON was born in Pinawa, Manitoba, and graduated in 1995 from the University of British Columbia with a B.A. in English literature. He has worked as a teacher in Japan, where he has lived on and off, and as a writer of English lessons for Japanese Web sites. The Gargoyle, the product of seven years' worth of research and composition, is his first book. Davidson lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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Read an Excerpt

The Gargoyle
By Andrew Davidson
Doubleday Copyright © 2008 Andrew Davidson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780385524940


I.

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.

To one side of the curving road was a sharp drop down the mountain’s slope, and on the other was a dark wood. I tried to keep my eyes fixed ahead but I had the overwhelming feeling that something was waiting to ambush me from behind the trees, perhaps a troop of mercenaries. That’s how drug paranoia works, of course. My heart hammered as I gripped the steering wheel more tightly, sweat collecting at the base of my neck.

Between my legs I had wedged a bottle of bourbon, which I tried to pull out for another mouthful. I lost my grip on the bottle and it tumbled into my lap, spilling everywhere, before falling to the floorboard. I bent down to grab it before the remaining alcohol leaked out, and when my eyes were lifted I was greeted by the vision, the ridiculous vision, that set everything into motion. I saw a volley of burning arrows swarming out of the woods, directly at my car. Instinct took over and I jerked the steering wheel away from the forest that held my invisibleattackers. This was not a good idea, because it threw my car up against the fencepost wires that separated me from the drop. There was the howl of metal on metal, the passenger door scraping against taut cables, and a dozen thuds as I bounced off the wood posts, each bang like electricity through a defibrillator.

I overcompensated and spun out into the oncoming lane, just missing a pickup truck. I pulled back too hard on the wheel, which sent me once again towards the guardrail. The cables snapped and flew everywhere at once, like the thrashing tentacles of a harpooned octopus. One cracked the windshield and I remember thinking how glad I was that it hadn’t hit me as the car fell through the arms of the convulsing brute.

There was a brief moment of weightlessness: a balancing point between air and earth, dirt and heaven. How strange, I thought, how like the moment between sleeping and falling when everything is beautifully surreal and nothing is corporeal. How like floating towards completion. But as often happens in that time between existing in the world and fading into dreams, this moment over the edge ended with the ruthless jerk back to awareness.

A car crash seems to take forever, and there is always a moment in which you believe that you can correct the error. Yes, you think, it’s true that I’m plummeting down the side of a mountain in a car that weighs about three thousand pounds. It’s true that it’s a hundred feet to the bottom of the gully. But I’m sure that if only I twist the steering wheel very hard to one side, everything will be okay.

Once you’ve spun that steering wheel around and found it doesn’t make any difference, you have this one clear, pure thought: Oh, shit. For a glorious moment, you achieve the empty bliss that Eastern philosophers spend their lives pursuing. But following this transcendence, your mind becomes a supercomputer capable of calculating the gyrations of your car, multiplying that by the speed of the fall over the angle of descent, factoring in Newton’s laws of motion and, in a split second, coming to the panicked conclusion that this is gonna hurt like hell.

Your car gathers speed down the embankment, bouncing. Your hypothesis is quickly proven correct: it is, indeed, quite painful. Your brain catalogues the different sensations. There is the flipping end over end, the swirling disorientation, and the shrieks of the car as it practices its unholy yoga. There’s the crush of metal, pressing against your ribs. There’s the smell of the devil’s mischievousness, a pitchfork in your ass and sulfur in your mouth. The Bastard’s there, all right, don’t doubt it.

I remember the hot silver flash as the floorboard severed all my toes from my left foot. I remember the steering column sailing over my shoulder. I remember the eruption of glass that seemed to be everywhere around me. When the car finally came to a stop, I hung upside down, seatbelted. I could hear the hiss of various gases escaping the engine and the tires still spinning outside, above, and there was the creak of metal settling as the car stopped rocking, a pathetic turtle on its back.

Just as I was beginning my drift into unconsciousness, there was the explosion. Not a movie explosion but a small real-life explosion, like the ignition of an unhappy gas oven that holds a grudge against its owner. A flash of blue flame skittered across the roof of the car, which was at a slanted angle underneath my dangling body. Out of my nose crawled a drop of blood, which jumped expectantly into the happy young flames springing to life beneath me. I could feel my hair catch fire; then I could smell it. My flesh began to singe as if I were a scrap of meat newly thrown onto the barbecue, and then I could hear the bubbling of my skin as the flames kissed it. I could not reach my head to extinguish my flaming hair. My arms would not respond to my commands.

I imagine, dear reader, that you’ve had some experience with heat. Perhaps you’ve tipped a boiling kettle at the wrong angle and the steam crept up your sleeve; or, in a youthful dare, you held a match between your fingers for as long as you could. Hasn’t everyone, at least once, filled the bathtub with overly hot water and forgot to dip in a toe before committing the whole foot? If you’ve only had these kinds of minor incidents, I want you to imagine something new. Imagine turning on one of the elements of your stove--let’s say it’s the electric kind with black coils on top. Don’t put a pot of water on the element, because the water only absorbs the heat and uses it to boil. Maybe some tiny tendrils of smoke curl up from a previous spill on the burner. A slight violet tinge will appear, nestled there in the black rings, and then the element assumes some reddish-purple tones, like unripe blackberries. It moves towards orange and finally--finally!--an intense glowing red. Kind of beautiful, isn’t it? Now, lower your head so that your eyes are even with the top of the stove and you can peer through the shimmering waves rising up. Think of those old movies where the hero finds himself looking across the desert at an unexpected oasis. I want you to trace the fingertips of your left hand gently across your right palm, noting the way your skin registers even the lightest touch. If someone else were doing it, you might even be turned on. Now, slam that sensitive, responsive hand directly onto that glowing element.

And hold it there. Hold it there as the element scorches Dante’s nine rings right into your palm, allowing you to grasp Hell in your hand forever. Let the heat engrave the skin, the muscles, the tendons; let it smolder down to the bone. Wait for the burn to embed itself so far into you that you don’t know if you’ll ever be able to let go of that coil. It won’t be long until the stench of your own burning flesh wafts up, grabbing your nose hairs and refusing to let go, and you smell your body burn.

I want you to keep that hand pressed down, for a slow count of sixty. No cheating. One Mis-sis-sip-pi, two Mis-sis-sip-pi, three Mis-sis-sip-pii.i.i.i At sixty Mis-sis-sip-pi, your hand will have melted so that it now surrounds the element, becoming fused with it. Now rip your flesh free.

I have another task for you: lean down, turn your head to one side, and slap your cheek on the same element. I’ll let you choose which side of your face. Again sixty Mississippis; no cheating. The convenient thing is that your ear is right there to capture the snap, crackle, and pop of your flesh.

Now you might have some idea of what it was like for me to be pinned inside that car, unable to escape the flames, conscious enough to catalogue the experience until I went into shock. There were a few short and merciful moments in which I could hear and smell and think, still documenting everything but feeling nothing. Why does this no longer hurt? I remember closing my eyes and wishing for complete, beautiful blackness. I remember thinking that I should have lived my life as a vegetarian.

Then the car shifted once more, tipping over into the creek upon whose edge it had been teetering. Like the turtle had regained its feet and scurried into the nearest water source.
This occurrence--the car falling into the creek--saved my life by extinguishing the flames and cooling my newly broiled flesh.


***

Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love.

I have no idea whether beginning with my accident was the best decision, as I’ve never written a book before. Truth be told, I started with the crash because I wanted to catch your interest and drag you into the story. You’re still reading, so it seems to have worked.

The most difficult thing about writing, I’m discovering, is not the act of constructing the sentences themselves. It’s deciding what to put in, and where, and what to leave out. I’m constantly second-guessing myself. I chose the accident, but I could just as easily have started with any point during my thirty-five years of life before that. Why not start with: ìI was born in the year 19----, in the city of----î?

Then again, why should I even confine the beginning to the time frame of my life? Perhaps I should start in Nurnberg in the early thirteenth century, where a woman with the most unfortunate name of Adelheit Rotter retreated from a life that she thought was sinful to become a Beguine--women who, though not officially associated with the Church, were inspired to live an impoverished life in imitation of Christ. Over time Rotter attracted a legion of followers and, in 1240, they moved to a dairy farm at Engelschalksdorf near Swinach, where a benefactor named Ulrich II von Konigstein allowed them to live provided they did chores. They erected a building in 1243 and, the following year, established it as a monastery with the election of their first prioress.

When Ulrich died without a male heir, he bequeathed his entire estate to the Beguines. In return he requested that the monastery provide burial places for his relations and that they pray, in perpetuity, for the Konigstein family. In a show of good sense he directed that the place be named Engelthal, or ìValley of the Angels,î rather than Swinach--ìPlace of the Pigs.î But it was Ulrich’s final provision that would have the greatest impact on my life: he mandated that the monastery establish a scriptorium.


•••

Eyes open on a red and blue spin of lightning. A blitzkrieg of voices, noises. A metal rod pierces the side of the car, jaws it apart. Uniforms. Christ, I’m in Hell and they wear uniforms. One man shouts. Another says in a soothing voice: ìWe’ll get you out. Don’t worry.î He wears a badge. ìYou’re gonna be all right,î he promises through his mustache. ìWhat’s your name?î Can’t remember. Another paramedic yells to someone I can’t see. He recoils at the sight of me. Are they supposed to do that? Blackness.

Eyes open. I’m strapped to a spine board. A voice, ìThree, two, one, lift.î The sky rushes towards me and then away from me. ìIn,î says the voice. A metallic clack as the stretcher snaps into place. Coffin, why no lid? Too antiseptic for Hell, and could the roof of Heaven really be made of gray metal? Blackness.

Eyes open. Weightless again. Charon wears a blue polyester-cotton blend. An ambulance siren bounces off a concrete Acheron. An IV has been inserted into my body--everywhere? I’m covered with a gel blanket. Wet, wet. Blackness.

Eyes open. The thud of wheels like a shopping cart on concrete. The damn voice says ìGo!î The sky mocks me, passes me by, then a plaster-white ceiling. Double doors slither open. ìOR Four!î Blackness.


***

Eyes open. Gaping maw of a snake, lunging at me, laughing, speaking: I\AM\COMING\.\.\.?The serpent tries to engulf my head. No, not a snake, an oxygen mask.?.\.\.\AND\THERE\IS NOTHING\YOU\CAN\DO\ABOUT\IT. I’m falling backwards gas mask blackness.

Eyes unveil. Burning hands, burning feet, fire everywhere, but I am in the middle of a blizzard. A German forest, and a river is near. A woman on a ridge with a crossbow. My chest feels as if it’s been hit. I hear the hiss as my heart gives out. I try to speak but croak instead, and a nurse tells me to rest, that everything will be okay, everything will be okay. Blackness.

A voice floats above me. ìSleep. Just sleep.î


***

Following my accident, I plumped up like a freshly roasted wiener, my skin cracking to accommodate the expanding meat. The doctors, with their hungry scalpels, hastened the process with a few quick slices. The procedure is called an escharotomy, and it gives the swelling tissue the freedom to expand. It’s rather like the uprising of your secret inner being, finally given license to claw through the surface. The doctors thought they had sliced me open to commence my healing but, in fact, they only released the monster--a thing of engorged flesh, suffused with juice.
While a small burn results in a blister filled with plasma, burns such as mine result in the loss of enormous quantities of liquid. In my first twenty-four hospital hours, the doctors pumped six gallons of isotonic liquid into me to counteract the loss of body fluids. I bathed in the liquid as it flowed out of my scorched body as fast as it was pumped in, and I was something akin to the desert during a flash flood.

This too-quick exchange of fluid resulted in an imbalance in my blood chemistry, and my immune system staggered under the strain, a problem that would become ever more dangerous in the following weeks when the primary threat of death was from sepsis. Even for a burn victim who seems to be doing well long after his accident, infection can pull him out of the game at a moment’s notice. The body’s defenses are just barely functioning, exactly when they are needed most.

My razed outer layers were glazed with a bloody residue of charred tissue called eschar, the Hiroshima of the body. Just as you cannot call a pile of cracked concrete blocks a ìbuildingî after the bomb has detonated, neither could you have called my outer layer ìskinî after the accident. I was an emergency state unto myself, silver ion and sulfadiazine creams spread over the remains of me. Over that, bandages were laid to rest upon the devastation.
I was aware of none of this, and only learned it later from the doctors. At the time, I lay comatose, with a machine clicking off the sluggish metronome of my heart. Fluids and electrolytes and antibiotics and morphine were administered through a series of tubes (IV tube, jejunostomy tube, endotracheal tube, nasogastric tube, urinary tube, truly a tube for every occasion!). A heat shield kept my body warm enough to survive, a ventilator did my breathing, and I collected enough blood transfusions to shame Keith Richards.

The doctors removed my wasteland exterior by debriding me, scraping away the charred flesh. They brought in tanks of liquid nitrogen containing skin recently harvested from corpses. The sheets were thawed in pans of water, then neatly arranged on my back and stapled into place. Just like that, as if they were laying strips of sod over the problem areas behind their summer cabins, they wrapped me in the skin of the dead. My body was cleaned constantly but I rejected these sheets of necro-flesh anyway; I’ve never played well with others. So over and over again, I was sheeted with cadaver skin.

There I lay, wearing dead people as armor against death.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson Copyright © 2008 by Andrew Davidson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Foreword

1. Dante’s Inferno
First published in 1314, this epic poem is the first “song” in Dante Alighieri’s three-part Divine Comedy; subsequent canticles describe Purgatory and Paradise. In The Inferno, Virgil guides Dante through the underworld, comprising nine concentric circles that represent varying degrees of condemnation, from the unbaptized in Limbo to traitorous Satan at the center.

Dante begins his tour of hell on Good Friday, 1300, the suggested day and year of Marianne’s birth. The day of Christ’s crucifixion, Good Friday makes additional appearances in The Gargoyle: It is Sister Christina’s birthday and the day of the narrator’s car accident.

Like Dante, The Gargoyle’s narrator begins his journey in the woods, at the age of thirty-five. Contemplation of suicide occurs in early passages of The Inferno as well as The Gargoyle.

For Discussion: In The Inferno, condemned souls receive punishments that correspond to their sins. The Gargoyle’s narrator loses his ability to consummate sex, but he retains his ability to feel intense desire. What other forms of hell does he suffer? What do Dante’s images signify to Marianne? What sort of tailor-made suffering might Dante have invented for you? What do a society’s beliefs regarding the afterlife say about that society’s values in general?

2. The Medieval Church
The founding of the Dominican monastery Engelthal occurred as described in The Gargoyle. In its strictest definition, “monastery” can refer to a religious retreat for bothwomen and men, though Engelthal nuns did not preach as friars did. The nuns’ predecessors, the beguines, were also sometimes seen as a threat to ecclesiastical authority. The women who worked in the renowned Engelthal scriptorium in the fourteenth century are said to have produced more extant texts than any other religious house of their era.

At the time of Father Sunder’s death in 1328, he and Brother Heinrich had lived together for thirty-eight years. Father Sunder was said to have had very special status, and was called a “pope in heaven” with the Power of the Keys, effectively granting him the authority to forgive any sin at any time.

Heinrich Seuse’s extreme, self-inflicted physical suffering captures a medieval Christian approach to the opposition between body and spirit, and to the desire for God and man to achieve a metaphysical union. Meister Eckhart, who explored similar questions, was declared a heretic under trial by Pope John XXII.

The Three Masters are derived from Heinrich Seuse’s attempts to control his tongue. He called on three spiritual masters, Father Dominic, St. Arsenius, and St. Bernard, and would not speak without receiving their permission in a vision.

Marianne’s assertion in Chapter Five that “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere” was commonly invoked by medieval theologians.

Continually persecuted by religious and political entities, the Jews of medieval Germany lived in two worlds: one of segregated self-governance and Talmudic codes, and one of utter dependence on the whims of papal authority.

For Discussion: How does medieval Catholicism compare to the other forms of faith – religious or otherwise – captured in the novel? In what ways does contemporary society still struggle with the tandem between body and soul? Was it easier for you to relate to Marianne’s mysticism or to the narrator’s atheism?

3. Gargoyles
The legend describing the creation of the first gargoyle, recounted in Chapter Three, is just one of many versions. Andrew Davidson invented the battle scene between Romanus and La Gargouille; it does not appear in published legends.

The concept of using a sculpture depicting an animal’s mouth to divert water from buildings dates well before medieval Europe. Ancient Egyptian and Greek architecture is rife with apparatuses that would qualify as “gargoyles.”
As Marianne says in Chapter Twenty, medieval gargoyles were indeed sometimes painted bright colors. Oranges, reds, and greens were popular, and some gargoyles were gilded. They were made from a variety of materials, including limestone, marble, lead, or metal, and they usually weighed several hundred pounds.

Scholars debate the intended message behind medieval gargoyles. Perhaps they were meant to ward off evil spirits, or to depict evil forces. Early Gothic examples easily convey a moral lesson, while later ones can frequently be interpreted as comical.

For Discussion: In Chapter Five, Marianne describes herself as “a vessel that water is poured into and splashes out of, a flowing circle between God and the gargoyles and me.” In Chapter Sixteen, the narrator realizes that Marianne “loved [the gargoyles] out of the stone.” What mandate is she fulfilling in both of these descriptions? What makes Marianne’s mandate relevant to the modern world? What traits does the narrator share with medieval gargoyles?

4. Legendary Lovers
The author incorporated the four Greek classical elements of the physical world when writing Marianne’s legends: Sei lived as a glassblower (Air) and died by being buried alive (Earth). Victoria lived as a farmwoman (Earth) and died by drowning (Water). Sigurðr lived as a Viking (Water) and died in a burning longhouse (Fire). Francesco lived as an ironworker (Fire) and died by breathing in the Plague (Air).

Brandeis and his fellow mercenaries served during a tumultuous time for the Holy Roman Empire. Between 1314 and 1347, Louis the Bavarian served as Duke of Bavaria, the German king, and the Holy Roman Emperor, meeting with constant resistance from the papacy (including excommunication).

Marianne’s fairy tales are Davidson’s inventions. Though the novel’s depictions of Engelthal incorporate many figures from true history, none of the incarnations of Marianne and the narrator are based on such characters.
Marianne’s copy of The Inferno was found among the possessions of the archer Niccolò, later revealed to be the father of metalworker Francesco.

Sei is stung by the Asian giant hornet, the world’s largest wasp (and among the deadliest).

Sigurðr’s “fine boat grave” refers to a highly honorary burial style used in the Vendel era and by the Anglo-Saxons, the Merovingians, the Vikings, and occasionally the Ancient Egyptians. This form of burial was thought to enable passage to Valhalla. In Norse mythology, the paradise of Valhalla is the great hall where war heroes greet the afterlife. The less fortunate are relegated to a cold, dismal kingdom of death ruled by the goddess Hel.

Tom’s ill-fated voyage is alluded to in the story of Sigurðr and Einarr, when Bragi stumbles off his sleeping bench during the fire while the floor seems “to lurch like a boat deck during a storm.”

In Chapter Seven, Marianne tells the narrator that he must do nothing for her in order to prove his love. This foreshadows her final scene on the beach in the novel’s closing passages.

For Discussion: Throughout each liaison, how do the novel’s lovers honor their fate? In each case, who or what is the greatest threat to their happiness? Do you agree with Meister Eckhart’s descriptions of love and death in the novel’s epigraph? Which of Marianne’s tales was the most memorable for you?

5. Linguistic Curiosities
Translated into English, Sei’s name means “pure” or “clean.”

Bragi’s name is derived from the Norse god of poetry.

In Chapter Nine, the narrator wonders whether he can trust Sayuri’s translation of her conversation with Marianne. In fact, he can. Sayuri gave him a faithful rendering of their words.

The names of the nun-nurses of Engelthal echo those of the nurses who tend to the narrator in the present time: Mathildis, Elisabeth, and Constantia versus Maddy, Beth, and Connie.

While the word gargoyle is related to a French word meaning gargle, the word grotesque (a non-aquatic gargoyle) is derived from the Old Italian grottesca, meaning “cave painting,” from which the English word grotto evolved.

Marianne’s linguistic abilities are an allusion to the New Testament’s Book of Acts 2:3, in which the apostles speak in tongues when preaching the gospel.

Gertrud’s German translation of the Bible is one of Andrew Davidson’s inventions.

When Sayuri asks the narrator if he is genki, she is asking him if he is feeling energetic. “Genki desu ka?” is a common Japanese greeting, essentially asking “Are you feeling well?”

For Discussion: How does the multilingual aspect of The Gargoyle shape the novel, giving voice to the universal aspects of the human experience? How do Marianne’s vignettes offer a testament to the power of words and language?

6. The Gargoyle begins with arguably one of the most stunning opening scenes in contemporary literature. How was the author able to make horrifying details alluring? What was your initial reaction to these images?

7. How were you affected by the narrator’s voice and his ability to address you in an intimate, direct monologue? How did his storytelling style compare to Marianne’s? In what ways did these tales balance reality and surrealism?

8. Arrows form a recurring symbol throughout the novel. What are their various uses as tools of war and of love? What makes them ideal for Marianne’s stories?

9. What medical aspects of the narrator’s treatment surprised you the most? Did his gruesome journey change the way you feel about your own body?

10. How did Marianne’s experience of God evolve and mature throughout her life? How do you personally reconcile the concept of a loving God and the reality of human suffering?

11. Marianne uses her body as a canvas. What messages does it convey? How does the narrator “read” bodies before his accident, both in front of the camera and while picking up less-dazzling strangers?

12. Discuss the role of ghosts and memory in The Gargoyle. In what ways does the past repeat itself? How are the characters shaped by past circumstances? When are their painful cycles to be broken?

13. What does Marianne’s copy of The Inferno indicate about the value of books beyond their content? In what way can a book also be an art object, or an artifact of history?

14. Eventually, Nan reveals her own burn scars. What motivates the novel’s healers – including Nan, Marianne, Sayuri, and Gregor? Whom does the narrator heal?

15. Discuss the role of money throughout The Gargoyle. What kept Jack honest? What did it mean for Marianne, a woman, to have far more money than the men in her life, both in the 14th century and in the contemporary storyline?

16. How did you interpret the narrator’s own Dante-esque tour, described in Chapter Twenty-nine? Was he hallucinating, in the throes of withdrawal while he kicked the bitchsnake of morphine, or did he journey to an underworld? Or both? Was Marianne a mere mortal?

17. The novel closes with Marianne’s departure and the marriage of Gregor and Sayuri. The narrator grapples with guilt, trying to understand whether he could or should have saved Marianne. What enabled Gregor and Sayuri to recognize and nurture their love for one another? What determines whether a relationship will become exhausted or perpetually revitalized? Is fate or willpower the greater factor?

18. An old adage, evidenced particularly in Shakespeare’s works, states that a comedy ends with a marriage, while a tragedy ends with a death. Given that The Gargoyle ends with both a marriage and a death, what does it say about the work?

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Reading Group Guide

1. Dante's Inferno
First published in 1314, this epic poem is the first “song” in Dante Alighieri's three-part Divine Comedy; subsequent canticles describe Purgatory and Paradise. In The Inferno, Virgil guides Dante through the underworld, comprising nine concentric circles that represent varying degrees of condemnation, from the unbaptized in Limbo to traitorous Satan at the center.

Dante begins his tour of hell on Good Friday, 1300, the suggested day and year of Marianne's birth. The day of Christ's crucifixion, Good Friday makes additional appearances in The Gargoyle: It is Sister Christina's birthday and the day of the narrator's car accident.

Like Dante, The Gargoyle's narrator begins his journey in the woods, at the age of thirty-five. Contemplation of suicide occurs in early passages of The Inferno as well as The Gargoyle.

For Discussion: In The Inferno, condemned souls receive punishments that correspond to their sins. The Gargoyle's narrator loses his ability to consummate sex, but he retains his ability to feel intense desire. What other forms of hell does he suffer? What do Dante's images signify to Marianne? What sort of tailor-made suffering might Dante have invented for you? What do a society's beliefs regarding the afterlife say about that society's values in general?

2. The Medieval Church
The founding of the Dominican monastery Engelthal occurred as described in The Gargoyle. In its strictest definition, “monastery” can refer to a religious retreat for both women and men, though Engelthal nuns did not preach as friars did. The nuns' predecessors, the beguines, were also sometimes seen as a threat to ecclesiastical authority. The women who worked in the renowned Engelthal scriptorium in the fourteenth century are said to have produced more extant texts than any other religious house of their era.

At the time of Father Sunder's death in 1328, he and Brother Heinrich had lived together for thirty-eight years. Father Sunder was said to have had very special status, and was called a “pope in heaven” with the Power of the Keys, effectively granting him the authority to forgive any sin at any time.

Heinrich Seuse's extreme, self-inflicted physical suffering captures a medieval Christian approach to the opposition between body and spirit, and to the desire for God and man to achieve a metaphysical union. Meister Eckhart, who explored similar questions, was declared a heretic under trial by Pope John XXII.

The Three Masters are derived from Heinrich Seuse's attempts to control his tongue. He called on three spiritual masters, Father Dominic, St. Arsenius, and St. Bernard, and would not speak without receiving their permission in a vision.

Marianne's assertion in Chapter Five that “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere” was commonly invoked by medieval theologians. Continually persecuted by religious and political entities, the Jews of medieval Germany lived in two worlds: one of segregated self-governance and Talmudic codes, and one of utter dependence on the whims of papal authority.

For Discussion: How does medieval Catholicism compare to the other forms of faith-religious or otherwise-captured in the novel? In what ways does contemporary society still struggle with the tandem between body and soul? Was it easier for you to relate to Marianne's mysticism or to the narrator's atheism?

3. Gargoyles
The legend describing the creation of the first gargoyle, recounted in Chapter Three, is just one of many versions. Andrew Davidson invented the battle scene between Romanus and La Gargouille; it does not appear in published legends.

The concept of using a sculpture depicting an animal's mouth to divert water from buildings dates well before medieval Europe. Ancient Egyptian and Greek architecture is rife with apparatuses that would qualify as “gargoyles.”

As Marianne says in Chapter Twenty, medieval gargoyles were indeed sometimes painted bright colors. Oranges, reds, and greens were popular, and some gargoyles were gilded. They were made from a variety of materials, including limestone, marble, lead, or metal, and they usually weighed several hundred pounds.

Scholars debate the intended message behind medieval gargoyles. Perhaps they were meant to ward off evil spirits, or to depict evil forces. Early Gothic examples easily convey a moral lesson, while later ones can frequently be interpreted as comical.

For Discussion: In Chapter Five, Marianne describes herself as “a vessel that water is poured into and splashes out of, a flowing circle between God and the gargoyles and me.” In Chapter Sixteen, the narrator realizes that Marianne “loved [the gargoyles] out of the stone.” What mandate is she fulfilling in both of these descriptions? What makes Marianne's mandate relevant to the modern world? What traits does the narrator share with medieval gargoyles?

4. Legendary Lovers
The author incorporated the four Greek classical elements of the physical world when writing Marianne's legends: Sei lived as a glassblower (Air) and died by being buried alive (Earth). Victoria lived as a farmwoman (Earth) and died by drowning (Water). Siguror lived as a Viking (Water) and died in a burning longhouse (Fire). Francesco lived as an ironworker (Fire) and died by breathing in the Plague (Air).

Brandeis and his fellow mercenaries served during a tumultuous time for the Holy Roman Empire. Between 1314 and 1347, Louis the Bavarian served as Duke of Bavaria, the German king, and the Holy Roman Emperor, meeting with constant resistance from the papacy (including excommunication).

Marianne's fairy tales are Davidson's inventions. Though the novel's depictions of Engelthal incorporate many figures from true history, none of the incarnations of Marianne and the narrator are based on such characters.

Marianne's copy of The Inferno was found among the possessions of the archer Niccolò, later revealed to be the father of metalworker Francesco. Sei is stung by the Asian giant hornet, the world's largest wasp (and among the deadliest).

Siguror's “fine boat grave” refers to a highly honorary burial style used in the Vendel era and by the Anglo-Saxons, the Merovingians, the Vikings, and occasionally the Ancient Egyptians. This form of burial was thought to enable passage to Valhalla. In Norse mythology, the paradise of Valhalla is the great hall where war heroes greet the afterlife. The less fortunate are relegated to a cold, dismal kingdom of death ruled by the goddess Hel.

Tom's ill-fated voyage is alluded to in the story of Siguror and Einarr, when Bragi stumbles off his sleeping bench during the fire while the floor seems “to lurch like a boat deck during a storm.”

In Chapter Seven, Marianne tells the narrator that he must do nothing for her in order to prove his love. This foreshadows her final scene on the beach in the novel's closing passages.

For Discussion: Throughout each liaison, how do the novel's lovers honor their fate? In each case, who or what is the greatest threat to their happiness? Do you agree with Meister Eckhart's descriptions of love and death in the novel's epigraph? Which of Marianne's tales was the most memorable for you?

5. Linguistic Curiosities
Translated into English, Sei's name means “pure” or “clean.” Bragi's name is derived from the Norse god of poetry.

In Chapter Nine, the narrator wonders whether he can trust Sayuri's translation of her conversation with Marianne. In fact, he can. Sayuri gave him a faithful rendering of their words.

The names of the nun-nurses of Engelthal echo those of the nurses who tend to the narrator in the present time: Mathildis, Elisabeth, and Constantia versus Maddy, Beth, and Connie.

While the word gargoyle is related to a French word meaning gargle, the word grotesque (a non-aquatic gargoyle) is derived from the Old Italian grottesca, meaning “cave painting,” from which the English word grotto evolved. Marianne's linguistic abilities are an allusion to the New Testament's Book of Acts 2:3, in which the apostles speak in tongues when preaching the gospel.

Gertrud's German translation of the Bible is one of Andrew Davidson's inventions.

When Sayuri asks the narrator if he is genki, she is asking him if he is feeling energetic. “Genki desu ka?” is a common Japanese greeting, essentially asking “Are you feeling well?”

For Discussion: How does the multilingual aspect of The Gargoyle shape the novel, giving voice to the universal aspects of the human experience? How do Marianne's vignettes offer a testament to the power of words and language?

6. The Gargoyle begins with arguably one of the most stunning opening scenes in contemporary literature. How was the author able to make horrifying details alluring? What was your initial reaction to these images?

7. How were you affected by the narrator's voice and his ability to address you in an intimate, direct monologue? How did his storytelling style compare to Marianne's? In what ways did these tales balance reality and surrealism?

8. Arrows form a recurring symbol throughout the novel. What are their various uses as tools of war and of love? What makes them ideal for Marianne's stories?

9. What medical aspects of the narrator's treatment surprised you the most? Did his gruesome journey change the way you feel about your own body?

10. How did Marianne's experience of God evolve and mature throughout her life? How do you personally reconcile the concept of a loving God and the reality of human suffering?

11. Marianne uses her body as a canvas. What messages does it convey? How does the narrator “read” bodies before his accident, both in front of the camera and while picking up less-dazzling strangers?

12. Discuss the role of ghosts and memory in The Gargoyle. In what ways does the past repeat itself? How are the characters shaped by past circumstances? When are their painful cycles to be broken?

13. What does Marianne's copy of The Inferno indicate about the value of books beyond their content? In what way can a book also be an art object, or an artifact of history?

14. Eventually, Nan reveals her own burn scars. What motivates the novel's healers—including Nan, Marianne, Sayuri, and Gregor? Whom does the narrator heal?

15. Discuss the role of money throughout The Gargoyle. What kept Jack honest? What did it mean for Marianne, a woman, to have far more money than the men in her life, both in the 14th century and in the contemporary storyline?

16. How did you interpret the narrator's own Dante-esque tour, described in Chapter Twenty-nine? Was he hallucinating, in the throes of withdrawal while he kicked the bitchsnake of morphine, or did he journey to an underworld? Or both? Was Marianne a mere mortal?

17. The novel closes with Marianne's departure and the marriage of Gregor and Sayuri. The narrator grapples with guilt, trying to understand whether he could or should have saved Marianne. What enabled Gregor and Sayuri to recognize and nurture their love for one another? What determines whether a relationship will become exhausted or perpetually revitalized? Is fate or willpower the greater factor?

18. An old adage, evidenced particularly in Shakespeare's works, states that a comedy ends with a marriage, while a tragedy ends with a death. Given that The Gargoyle ends with both a marriage and a death, what does it say about the work?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 360 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(228)

4 Star

(77)

3 Star

(36)

2 Star

(13)

1 Star

(6)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 360 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2008

    An Epic love story

    A story that starts in the Fourteenth Century and ends in ours, a love story between the enigmatic sculptor Marienne Engles and the narrator of the book . After surviving a horrendous car accident in which leaves him badly burned and injured beyond belief our narrator meets our heroine Marrianne Engles a world renowned sculptor who begins telling him stories about her life and how they first met. She then beguiles him with other love stories over the centuries. As he recovers we meet other people who influence the characters and add to the story. This is a definite must read.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 1, 2010

    Unique and Wonderful!

    Such a unique and well written story! One I won't soon forget. I agree with other reviewers that it is hard to pick up another book right away after finishing the Gargoyle. It is a book in which the characters are so well developed you can't stop thinking about what they are doing now. That to me is great writing, to transform words on paper to feeling like you have a relationship with these people. Such a complex novel that was well thought out and thoroughly researched. When I purchased the book, I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to remain interested in it, being that it does switch back and forth between present and past. But that was not an issue AT ALL, it flowed perfectly. I enjoyed it so much that I wish it was a series. So great job Mr. Davidson, I anxiously await your next book!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2009

    One of the most intriguing books I've ever read! Not knowing what to expect I was thrilled to be so emotionally moved by laughter, tears and reverence for an unending unexplainable and eternal love.

    If I had only one word to describe this book it would have to be intriguing. If I had only one category it would have to be a love story; however, it is so so much more than just any love story. It transcends centuries, cultures, and lifestyles. It made me believe in the everlastingness of the soul, and the love you have is taken with you throughout eternity. The story is quirky, at times smutty, a little bit sci-fi, containing some aspects of action-adventure, yet achingly human.
    A vain porn star is burnt in a fire caused by his own actions. Looks and daily functions gone, pain his company and addiction to pain-killers present, he is nursed back to health by a woman of questionable sanity. As she nurses him to health, he learns of her past encounters with life which span centuries. She convinces him that their love has been since before his present life, and as he increases she decreases.
    I can't recommend this book to children or teenagers due to language and content; however, those aspects should not influence an open minded person from enjoying one of the better books written in the last 20 years.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2008

    a compelling tale

    This story transcends generations and time. I listened to it on tape and then read it. Wasted lots of gas driving around to hear the end of the story. The descriptions of the accident at the beginning make you feel as though you have gone through it with the main character. It begs to be read again. The history is accurate, the language is beautiful and the writing is elegant. a must read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    No Words...

    A beautiful and sensual story. A must read, so I will not give away any of the story (read the editor notes for a synopsis). I recommend this to anyone; you will not be able to put it down. Usually after finishing a book I can move on the next one within a couple of days, but this one moved me so much and stuck with me, I couldn't pick up another book for a couple of weeks! My mind still wanders to the story and the characters on occasion. Simply amazing.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Abhorrant and Exquisite

    Really you gotta get through the first few chapters then you are really in for a beautiful sensual story of love and redemption. The first few chapters really paint how utterly abhorrant the main character is, which delves and explains his own self hatred. Allusions to Dante's Inferno where the hell is within the madness of our own minds and self destruction. Supernatural elements has you wondering what is reality or a twisting of the mind. Very lovely story with grief, excruciating pain, and exquisite blissful love.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2009

    Very Special

    This is an amazing book, it is one of the very best book i have every read. Thank you Andrew Davidson!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    outstanding first novel!

    I'm a lover of fiction/romance/history and this satisfied all my appetites! The characters were unforgetable and mesmerizing, and the ending will stay with you for a long time. Highly recommended!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2011

    Very cool

    when i first picked up this book i was iffy. i started reading the beginning and i still hadn't decided whether i liked it or not. Once you get about 50 pages in it hooks you. Even when you read it a second time you pick up on so many things that you didn't catch the first time. i was so enthralled by this book that i failed to notice until the very end that the author never gives the main character a name. VERY well written and it is a must read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2010

    Couldn't even make myself finish it

    I tried to read it and it started out pretty good and then I could not get into the relationship. The converations between the two "in love" became annoying and I gave up on it. The stories she told ... Ughhh I could care less.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 9, 2010

    A surprise!

    I just bought this book because it was on sale at Barnes & Noble, the buy 2 paperbacks and get one free deal and it looked interesting. Little did I know the story that I picked up would be so riveting or so powerful and moving. An amazing story with a bittersweet ending that you wish didn't end and then it did. A definite keeper among my hundreds of favorites among my library of favorites!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 28, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Fantastic Book!

    The Gargoyle is the thought provoking story of a man on so many journeys. The book is so well-written and so deftly woven together. It isn't a story I will ever forget. Only a few times in my life have I read something so powerful. It's a must read and then a re-read. Fantastic author on the rise!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 31, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Amazing

    I rarely rate books, however this one was pretty incredible. This book is so incredible that it will keep you up at night just thinking about it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Great Read

    I got this book without giving it much thought, I just wanted something for the road and I was pleasantly surprised. If you like dark stories and graphic descriptions that will make you feel the character's suffering, this is your book. It was different, refreshing and well written. Great read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 10, 2010

    Exquisite!

    I bought it based on the cover, summary, and reviews and it did not disappoint! As a lover of thick books, I must say this is the best I've read in a very long time. This is the kind of book that can only come as a labor of intense research and academia, it will have you reaching for a dictionary every few pages. The wordplay and sentence structures themselves are reason enough to buy it! It's a triumph of the English language. As far as the plot, it's quite intricate and undoubtedly beautiful as you witness the nameless main character develop and transform before your very eyes. No praise is high enough! Many books pale in comparison.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2010

    Unique, fascinating novel

    The characters are interesting and believable. The author skillfully wove the story through time. The eras and settings of the story varied clearly and cleverly. I could not put this book down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A must read!

    I picked up this book because it sounded interesting. It was fabulous! I was sucked in from page one. It is a book that not only has romance and humor, but it gives an insight into life and love. I have quotes from this book underlined and all of my friends have loved it too. If your looking for a cute romantic novel that has meaning-buy this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    a love story unlike any other

    This brilliant love story unfolds through the telling of a series of timeless love stories. As someone who really only dabbles in the fantastic, I loved the framework Davidson created -- it made me willing to suspend my disbelief so I could savor each tale at it urged the main romance forward. Furthermore, the allusions to Dante truly make this highly enjoyable read and intelligent piece of fiction.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Not your normal romance novel....

    A dark yet thoughtful look at ever enduring love. This book took hold of my imagination and took me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. From loathing to sympathy to admiration. A pure escape I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a not so normal romance..

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2009

    This is one you will long remember!

    I've never read anything quite like this. If you can make it through the first fifty pages or so of addiction and depression, you will not want to put it down and will want more when it's finished... Write on!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 360 Customer Reviews

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