The Gargoyle’s Spell

Today’s Wall Street Journal examines the risky business of publishing expensive first novels, in this case, The Gargoyle, which sold for $1.25 million last year. The book pubs on August 5th.

The plot is fantastical and it’s fun to watch reviewers and journalists try to describe it. Let’s just go with Doubleday’s synopsis:

The narrator of The Gargoyle is a very contemporary cynic, physically beautiful and sexually adept, who dwells in the moral vacuum that is modern life. As the book opens, he is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and suffers horrible burns over much of his body. As he recovers in a burn ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned, he awaits the day when he can leave the hospital and commit carefully planned suicide—for he is now a monster in appearance as well as in soul.

A beautiful and compelling, but clearly unhinged, sculptress of gargoyles by the name of Marianne Engel appears at the foot of his bed and insists that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly injured mercenary and she was a nun and scribe in the famed monastery of Engelthal who nursed him back to health. As she spins their tale in Scheherazade fashion and relates equally mesmerizing stories of deathless love in Japan, Iceland, Italy, and England, he finds himself drawn back to life—and, finally, in love. He is released into Marianne’s care and takes up residence in her huge stone house. But all is not well. For one thing, the pull of his past sins becomes ever more powerful as the morphine he is prescribed becomes ever more addictive. For another, Marianne receives word from God that she has only twenty-seven sculptures left to complete—and her time on earth will be finished.

As the Kirkus review puts it, “this spellbinding narrative seems considerably less ludicrous when reading it than when summarizing it.” One hopes.

Other prepub reviews agree:

Library Journal 6/1/08 — “An essential summer book; highly recommended for all libraries”

PW, 6/16 — starred review — “Once launched into this intense tale of unconventional romance, few readers will want to put it down”

The Journal notes that the first 75 pages include explicit descriptions of sex and painful injuries. One bookseller, from the midwest, feels this will turn off potential buyers.

Most libraries have it on order, in large quantities for a first novel, with no reserves so far. It’s also available in audio from Books on Tape, but the audio versions are not yet listed in the library catalogs I checked.

The Gargoyle

Andrew Davidson

  • Hardcover: $25.95
  • Publisher: Doubleday (August 5, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0385524943
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385524940
  • Unabridged Audio: $120.00
  • Publisher: Books on Tape (August 5, 2008)
  • Narrator: Lincoln Hoppe
  • CD: 9781415956885
  • Tape: 9781415959299

One Response to “The Gargoyle’s Spell”

  1. Jena Says:

    In regards to the midwest bookseller’s concern that the graphic descriptions of sex and burn injuries will turn off readers–it is possible to read the descriptions and absorb them intellectually without empathizing. My empathy for the narrator was actually almost nonexistent through the first few chapters. I think Davidson did an excellent job of making sure readers didn’t want to feel connected with the narrator in the first few pages, which makes us able to read the descriptions without being turned off of the book altogether. I actually found the character himself to be the turn off (but–and this is very important–you’re not supposed to love him). In fact, I almost stopped reading the book, but I’m glad I stuck it out; it’s the best book I’ve read in a long time.