THE GARGOYLE by Andrew Davidson (Review), narrated by Lincoln Hoppe
I love Lincoln Hoppe as a narrator and will listen to him read anything, even if it’s just a grocery list.
That being said, Hoppe did a great job narrating this book, as he does every book I’ve listened to. He really knows how to bring the characters to life, especially for stories written in first-person narrative.
Synopsis of the story (taken from Goodreads):
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.
I don’t like reading about blurbs about books before I read them. I don’t like knowing what the book is about because I want to find out for myself. I like plunging into novels without any expectations so I can be completely surprised and amazed by all the changes a character goes through.
The moment I started listening, I was hooked
The writer has an amazing ability to draw me in with graphic, gritty details that had me cringing but perversely drawn into the story. Sort of like when I see roadkill and I know it’s gross but I can’t help but stare. The character’s background was given in sharp detail without drawing away from the main plotline. The writer was able to give us a glimpse of how the character is the way he is without making any rationalizations or becoming boring.
The main character himself is a beautifully flawed human. He is cynical and self-loathing in a charming sort of way. Like that bad guy you desperately want to change, knowing that if he just spent a few hours in your company, he’ll be a better person. (Or maybe I’m just weird.)
The story stayed amazing and enthralling until about halfway through the book when…weird things…started to happen.
Now, yet another disclaimer. I love fantasy and science fiction. I believe 75% of what I read falls into the epic fantasy genre, which I’m only stating to point out that I have no trouble suspending my belief, especially when reading a novel.
But I found the stories Marianne Engel told, once she entered the scene, too distant to be believable. I believe this was where the writing became a muddled for me. She told the story in detailed prose, but she kept referring to the main character (and we never find out his name) as “you,” which would sort of snap me out of the story to remind me that it was just a story, thereby making it less believable. I know it was to keep the narrator unnamed, but this was the end result.
Once I finished the book, I was even less convinced of the magic that had originally kept me so enthralled in the first half. I was instead overwhelmed with questions, like:
1. If Marianne is really more than 700 years old, what happened during the time she died and was resurrected? Did she live to be that old, then died, then was re-born? Or did she lead many lives, forever searching for her true love (aka the main character)? If so, did she remember who she was in each life? How did she know who she was in this life?
2. How come Marianne could remember her past life but the main character couldn’t?
3. If she gave all her hearts to those gargoyles, wouldn’t they be alive somehow? Because she gave her last heart to the main character so…
4. What did she mean when she said “Our kind don’t die easily”?
5. How come Marianne’s penance to achieve salvation was so much more severe than the main character’s? If you really wanted to argue, he was a much bigger sinner than she was in both timelines. I mean, she was a nun who decided to marry a guy for love. He was a mercenary who killed people, and then later became a porn star (never thought I’d write that sentence, ever). So she had to live 700 years and give out hearts and carve gargoyles till she bled, and all he had to do was chip away at his own statue?
6. What was the point of it all? Was it to prove that their love endured all these years, all these lifetimes? That their love brought them back together even after death? Because that sure didn’t happen. Like, okay, yeah, they were brought back together. And sure, they got to spend some time together. But in the end, she left him. Again. And when they were together, she spent all that time carving or being annoyed when she was not carving.
All I’m saying is I didn’t feel the love. I heard him talk about it. I heard Marianne talk about it. But I didn’t feel it.
6. Or was it to point out that your life isn’t over unless you’ve paid back all your sins? Like our lives on this earth are just sentences in purgatory we’re made to live until we’re given enough chances and paid off enough sins to finally enter heaven.
Which is the complete opposite of the salvation I’ve put my faith in.
If you look at the main character’s journey toward salvation in the end, however, it is a beautiful development. He went from being a cynical porn star/drug addict to someone who was loved, and loved others. His growth alone was enough to carry the story.
I have to give this book 3/5 stars. If you love prose and the beauty of words, I would recommend at least reading the first few chapters, just to appreciate the writer’s beautiful execution. I would recommend the book as a whole just so we can talk about it. But for me, it lost its magic and left me feeling more lost than saved.