Monday, October 27, 2008

The Gargoyle: A Proper Review


Yesterday didn't work out nearly the way I'd planned. While I was hopped up on Mucinex and Alka Seltzer Cold, I also had obligations. My mother purchased a leather couch and loveseat at a moving sale down the street, so we had to move out the old furniture and welcome the new with help from my cousin, his wife, and two of their three kiddos. It was great to spend some time knocking a volleyball around out in the yard with the girls when the moving was done, and Daisy got to make some new friends. I also picked up a $10 mountain bike at the sale, so I have something to ride in the mornings when I don't feel like walking.
Once everything was squared away, I finally got to start my Gargoyle reading around 4:00 in the afternoon. Nevertheless, because it's such a quick read, I still managed to polish off over 200 pages. I woke up early this morning just to get a few hours of reading in while Daisy was sleepy and before I had to go teach. I finally polished off the last page just a few minutes ago after lots of work stuff and general distractions. While it's probably a horrible idea to write a review so soon after finishing a book, I CAN'T STOP MYSELF! I'm going to gush, so just sit back and be ready.
This book is simply overwhelming. I mentioned in my previous post the few quibbles I had with the writing, and if I'm being analytical, those same things still bother me. As I moved through the book, however, those quibbles became far less important and I was just carried completely away by the story, the characters, the historical bits, the adventure, and the heartbreak of it. When I compare this book to The Time Traveler's Wife, it's not anything overt I can use in the comparison. It's the feeling of the book. The characters' love story grabbed me by the hair, the heart, took hold of my chin like a stern granny and looked me straight in the eyes, stopped me dead in my tracks, and AFFECTED me.
I was particularly overwhelmed by all the research that must've gone into this novel. Historical bits pertaining to Vikings and the Engelthal Monastery and medieval Italy made the story come to life in a way that I haven't experienced in a very long time. I was also overwhelmed and delighted when I discovered that a great deal of this book parallels, makes allusions to, and overtly integrates the plot of Dante's Inferno. I first read Dante's masterpiece as a young teacher. I was 22, I was fresh out of college, and I stepped into a 10th grade classroom in North Carolina almost completely unprepared. As we worked our way through the semester, I had the bright idea to tackle Inferno. Most of the other teachers thought I was completely nuts to bring in something so complicated, but we dove in and the students loved it. We spent a week or two reading it aloud and talking about it, and I think they were better behaved in those two weeks than ever before or after. Not only was it gross--which automatically translates to "interesting" for high school students--but it also appealed to the majority of my Christian students as a way to talk about their beliefs through the lens of literature. My non-Christians loved it, too, and it opened up great conversations both philosophical and historical. Despite my precarious relationship and ongoing struggles with religion, Inferno touched me with its vivid descriptions and Dante's deft writing. Likewise, The Gargoyle is very spiritual, and I found that it made me think deeply and often.
I won't recount the plot of The Gargoyle or Inferno because you can go to any website for that, but I will tell you that I'm impressed that Davidson tackled such a sprawling story with vigor and devotion. It took him seven years to research and write the novel, and I'm just downright impressed in every conceivable way.
I have no doubt this book will hover near the top of my favorites list this year, and I venture to say it might even be a new addition to my all-time favorites list. This is a rich, involving story that I plan to return to in coming years, and only the best, most inspiring books can claim that place on my shelves and in my heart.

27 comments:

  1. Just because you say the book incorporates Inferno is more than suffice for it to make my list!

    $10 mountain bike? That's a deal right there!

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  2. I don't think I've seen a bad review of this. I have to admit it looks most intriguing!

    Lezlie

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  3. I'm sooooo glad you liked it. I read what you had said yesterday and I stopped myself from commenting "Just wait!" He really changes throughout the book. It's my favorite of the year as well

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  4. I just picked this up from the library. I'm so glad you enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to reading it.

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  5. Great review! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Still haven't picked it up myself but now I might have to!

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  6. OK, that does it! It's going on my Xmas list. I will NOT allow myself to go out and get it now. (must repeat last phrase at least 20x.)

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  7. Sounds like a yummy read!

    And I am very impressed you got high schoolers interested in Dante. Not an easy task to capture their attention!

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  8. LOL, I know, Matt! If I'd known that to start with I wouldn't have put it off so long. :) And yes, the bike was a great deal! I couldn't be more thrilled.

    Lezlie, it is incredibly intriguing. I hadn't seen too many reviews ahead of time, so I was surprised.

    Ha! Chris, you're so right. He was one of the most dynamic characters I've read in a while.

    Samantha, I'm looking forward to your review when you're done!

    Marie, it's quite the memorable read! Definitely highly recommended.

    Westcobich, you can do it! You can do it! I might even have to buy a keeper copy of this one. Hardback. A spluuurrge!

    Thanks, Kim! They loved it. The gore drew them in and then they were hooked. lol One of my football players at the time came up and asked if our school library had the whole thing. He wanted to read Purgatorio and Paradiso, too!!!

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  9. I have been fascinated by the cover of this book since the first time I laid eyes on it. I love hearing about how the book's feel overcame any concerns you had about the mechanics of the writing. I love it when a book does that. I can easily forgive quibbles when an author is able to tell a really good story.

    $10 for a bike?!?! That is great, good for you!

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  10. I will have to check this out! That's cool that you first taught in NC, that's where I'm from.

    I have't read Inferno. After all of the lit classes I took in high school and college it's terrible that I can still say that! I think I should read that before checking out The Gargoyle. I love reading books that allude to the classics.

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  11. I am so glad you enjoyed this one, Andi. Entertainment Weekly panned this one, but most of the blog reviews I've seen have been very positive. I'm looking forward to getting to this one myself one of these days.

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  12. Comparing a book to The Time Traveler's Wife is the surest way to get me to read it. I'll definitely keep on eye out for it.

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  13. Awwww man! Now I guess I'll have to pick it back up and give it another try. A review like that begs of me to read it. Shoot.

    After I finish The Good Thief that is. I think you'd like it. It's kind of New Englandly Dickensish. If that makes any sense.

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  14. andi, I've never read Dante's Inferno. Do you think this would have impressed you as much if you hadn't already read Dante?

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  15. Amen, Carl! I'd forgotten all about my quibbles by the end. :)

    Andrea, what area of NC are you from? I lived in the eastern part of the state...a small town centered between Wilmington and Raleigh. And enjoy Inferno when you get around to it. Unfortunately there are lots of books I got through high school and college without reading. I only read To Kill a Mockingbird a few months ago!

    Wendy, I'm not surprised EW panned, it actually. I love it, though. Listen to the bloggers! lol

    I hope you love it, Jessi!

    Englandy Dickensish makes perfect sense to me! I hope you lurv The Gargoyle when you get around to it.

    Lisa, I definitely think it would be just as impressive without reading Inferno. He sort of mentions the Inferno story as he goes along, so it's contextualized and makes sense without having read it.

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  16. Wow, I am really impressed. I had thought that with all the hype this was getting it would only be an average book afterall. Sounds like it may just live up to that hype! I'll have to give it a try.

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  17. Coolness. And, wow on the mountain bike deal. Someone really wanted to lighten the load before moving!

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  18. I'm so intrigued by this book. It seems to contain a bit of everything in it. Thanks for the great review Andi. I'm definitely looking forward to reading this one (one of these days!)

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  19. I put this on my wishlist even before I finished reading the post. I need to see if my library has it!

    Thanks for the gushing review. I love gushable books.

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  20. Woohoo you liked it, I'm so glad!

    I'm thinking that the slow start only added to my enjoyment of it - 50 pages in I was feeling kinda 'meh' and than suddenly I was completely and utterly trapped.

    The really outrageous thing is that I am so not romantic at all, but I fell in love with these characters and their stories (I felt a crack in my cold, dark heart) :)

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  21. Melanie, no one is as shocked as I am. I'm generally anti-hype, but this one certainly lived up for me.

    Nancyroo, it was INSANE the sheer amount of stuff they had for sale. Furniture, kitchen appliances, bikes, clothes, shoes. I think they're starting fresh in a house they're building.

    Iliana, that's a good way to put it. It really does have a bit of everything: romance, history, adventure. And it's really funny in spots, too. The main character is a cynical hoot of a man.

    LOL, Nik! It's definitely gushworthy! I hope you can get your hands on it.

    Joanne, you make me laugh. That's a good point about the slow start. Now that I look back it really was nice because it just showed the narrator's growth over the span of the book. He was slow to come around, and it felt real. I'm not a romantic either--I "eeewwww" at yucky love stuff--but this one was a winner!

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  22. I live in Charlotte. I don't go to the eastern part of the state much. Usually once a year to the beach in Wilmington...which has beautiful beaches. My husband went to Campbell University for a year...that's somewhere more out that way. I don't think it's east of Raleigh though. I can't remember where it is!

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  23. Oh yeah, and I'm from Fort Worth so it looks like we've lived in some of the same states!

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  24. OK, I'm so wanting to read this now! I was going to ask what Lisa did, about not having read Dante and whether that would matter. Glad to hear it shouldn't, much anyway.

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  25. I wasn't necessarily drawn to the descriptions I've read of this book, but the reviews I'm reading are causing me to re-think that. I loved Time Travelers Wife and would love to have that same sort of reading experience again. I'm adding this one to the list.

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  26. I keep seeing this everywhere and nearly getting it but not quite taking the plunge. I just read Dante and hated it. It might be better to read something more modern so it wasn't a complete waste of my time.

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  27. I checked this book out at my library today.

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