While you’ll probably find this book parked on the ‘General Fiction’ shelf of your library, for my money it definitely falls within the Fantasy genre.
Our unnamed protagonist, driving while high on booze and cocaine, crashes his car – a crash described in graphic detail, which doesn’t spare us the resulting fire and the agony of the driver as he is horribly burned. He wakes up in a burns unit, confronted with the prospect of months and years of painful treatment, disfigured and friendless. All he wants to do is commit suicide.
Until a beautiful woman, Marianne Engel, a sculptor, starts to become a regular visitor after informing him that they were lovers during the 14th century. It doesn’t help her case that she is also a frequent mental patient at the same hospital…
From this unpromising beginning, a relationship grows between the two of them.
It is a very ambitious first novel. We certainly don’t take the narrator to our hearts, initially. His cynical, boozy, drug-ridden former life as a porn star just about epitomises every sleazy cliché of our society. I have to say that I felt that Davidson was trying a bit too hard at this point. However, once Marianne appears, the mood and tone changes. For me, her character held the book together, which was why towards the end, I also found myself slightly less involved. But by then, of course, I was drawn into the story and wasn’t about to walk away.
Marianne whiles away the long hours at his bedside by recounting stories. She has a fund of them, told in minute detail. As far as I’m concerned, Davidson gets away chopping up his narrative timeline with these tales because they are entertaining and revolve around Marianne, who is certainly the fantastic element in this book. Nothing about her is ordinary or usual – and yet she still manages to come across as believable and sympathetic, which is quite a trick to pull off.
The themes of love, loss and redemption are probably the most mundane aspects of this interesting debut novel. Davidson needed to research a number of topics in some detail in order to write this book – the stomach-churning accounts of major burns treatments makes one realise just how far medical science still has to advance. He also needed to absorb a hefty amount of medieval history and bone up on stone masonry. However, he wears his knowledge lightly and we certainly don’t get any more detail than is necessary for the story. Maybe it is rather a stretch to believe that a ‘trailer trash’ kid who hardly ever attended school would be capable of such an eloquent narration of the story – but it is a fantasy tale, after all.
If you enjoy ‘magic realism’ and would appreciate a vampire-free fantasy tale with an interestingly different take on the genre, then I recommend The Gargoyle as an entertaining read that stays with you for a long time after you’ve finished the book.