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Literature / The Gargoyle

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

A 2008 historical/fantasy/romance novel by Andrew Davidson about a porn actor/drug addict burn victim who meets an Eccentric Artist who claims to know him from another life—several, actually—and spins him endless yarns of their lives together as he slowly recovers. Eventually, she takes him back to her home, where she works obsessively on her art, endlessly carving grotesques out of stone for days and weeks on end, as she believes it to be her mission. Soon, it's not clear who is caring for whom. Is Marianne Engel just harmlessly loony, or perhaps dangerously unhinged, or is there something real within her stories? Relies heavily on Classical Mythology, all sorts of issues of Heaven and Hell, as well as ample Fun with Foreign Languages as she tells The Narrator stories from throughout the ages.

Compare to: American Gods, The Divine Comedy. Not to be confused with Gargoyles the series.


  • Bittersweet Ending: Marianne Engel, claiming that her hearts are all gone, commits suicide by walking into the ocean. The Narrator, while heartbroken, carries on with his physical therapy, and chips away at a sculpture she made of him to remind himself of their love.
  • The Black Death: Kills Francesco and Graziana
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Marianne Engel. Even if her stories are completely true, she's still quite weird — and she herself acknowledges this.
  • Cuckoosnarker: Marianne Engel can be quite snarky when she's not in her spiritually exalted mood, such as quipping at the narrator's patches of burned skin:
    "If ever you were a racist," she said, running her fingers over the game board of my body, "this would certainly be a hair in your soup."
  • Deadpan Snarker: There's little the Narrator doesn't snark to. In his position he's also a Disabled Snarker and a Stepford Snarker.
  • Death by Childbirth: The Narrator's mother died after giving birth to him, leaving him completely orphaned as his father walked away from them.
  • Driven to Suicide: The Narrator fantasizes about a ridiculously elaborate suicide whilst in the hospital. Of course it didn't happen, as he keeps being the narrator.
  • Drugs Are Bad: In a way — they cause The Narrator's car crash, but he eventually considers that to have been a good thing, and when he detoxes from the morphine, he goes on an epic journey of self-discovery through Hell. So, not entirely bad... but they're certainly bad in the case of The Narrator's adoptive "parents," who eventually die in a meth lab explosion and are seen in Hell.
  • Eccentric Artist: Marianne Engel, a clearly unhinged sculptress of gargoyles who believes herself to be the reincarnation of a Medieval nun, and who has been hospitalized to a mental hospital more than once. Some of her acquaintances also qualify.
  • Fancy Dinner: Marianne Engel organizes many of these. Do not read those chapters with a empty stomach.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Played with. In the hospital, Marianne Engel doesn't do anything directly medical for The Narrator, she just provides him with friendship and distraction. Later, at her home, though, she does care for her. Played straight in the 13-century storyline.
  • For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself: Marianne Engel drags the Narrator to a Halloween party, dressing him up as a angel. He gets compliments from fellow partygoers on the amazing scar makeup.
  • Framing Device: The book is written like a memoir of The Narrator and Marianne Engel's relationship and the circumstances that drew them together.
  • Foreign-Looking Font: Used all over the place.
  • Full-Name Basis: Marianne Engel is almost always referred to by her full name. Though it may or may not be her real name; she just started calling herself that at some point
  • Gender-Blender Name: Jack, Marianne Engel's manager and art dealer. It's short for Jacqueline, but never call her that.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Avoided. The Narrator states early on that he doesn't believe in God, and while he certainly becomes more interested in theology and even goes to Hell, sort of, he doesn't change his mind.
    • And his reasons for not believing in God aren't anything as simple as Evil Stole My Faith or his traumatic childhood.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Sigurðr and Einarr.
  • Karma: Subverted — the Narrator's injuries sure seem like poetic justice, especially losing his penis when he was practically a sex addict, but he states that since he's an atheist, he doesn't believe God or anything else was out to get him, his accident was just chance.
  • Latin Is Magic: Marianne believes that she is the reincarnation of a Medieval nun from the fourteenth century; she also sees three apparitions nobody else can see, and speaks to them in Latin, believing them to be her "masters". In general, her use of Latin emphasizes her spiritual and otherworldy nature, as opposed to the materialistic and down-to-earth protagonist.
  • Loon with a Heart of Gold: Marianne Engel is a clearly unhinged sculptress of gargoyles, with her madness having religious overtones (she talks to unseen apparitions in Latin, etc.). She physically and psychologically helps the main character after a crash that leaves him severely burned and crippled.
  • Love Freak: Marianne Engel.
    This Christmas Day had shown me that Marianne Engel's love was not feeble. It was strapping, it was muscular, it was massive. I thought that it could fill the entire hospital. More important, her love was not reserved only for me; it was shared generously with strangers — people she didn't think were friends from the fourteenth century
  • Love Hurts: The image on that page is freakishly accurate.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: To the extreme. A cynical and bitter man who's nearly Driven to Suicide after an accident that crippled him encounters a quirky and idealistic artist who brings him back to life.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Marianne claims to have been alive since the thirteenth century, but Jack tells the Narrator that she met her in an insane asylum as a teenager, and Marianne may not be her real name; if nothing else for her account to be literally true then Marianne would have needed to either (physically) age backwards, or stop (physically) ageing around the time she claims to have first met the narrator, which, surely, somebody would have mentioned, and then began ageing again when she met Jack. However, the Narrator later finds two copies of The Inferno among her possessions, one of which is a German translation predating the first known translation by decades, with the hallmarks of an unknown scribe active in the Engelthal Monastery around the time Marianne claims to have lived there, and the other of which is an Italian copy which has been singed around the edges and has a hole in the image which matches the arrowhead necklace Marianne gave to him, which she claimed was made from the arrow he was shot with when she first met the 13th century version of him- damage which corroborates her story. Ultimately, evidence is given both ways, and while there's a chance that there's an element of truth to Marianne's stories, whether or not it happened to her and the Narrator is up for debate; it's unlikely that Marianne is Really 700 Years Old, but it's possible that she's a reincarnation, much as she claims the Narrator must have been. She must have gotten those copies of The Inferno *somewhere*, but whether or not her story is true or that she found them somewhere and built the story around them is down to the reader to decide. She does have the funds, resources, and connections to get them analyzed, and it's likely that whoever did so would have come to the same conclusion as the experts the Narrator uses at the end of the book.
  • Meaningful Rename: Einarr and Friðleifr rename their child after Sigurðr, after he dies saving them
  • Mercy Kill: A few times: Francesco asks his brother to do this when he's dying of the plague and his wife has already died, and he does, with an arrow to the heart. This is then echoed when Marianne kills her husband this way when he's been slowly tortured to death by Kuonrat
  • Mission from God: Marianne Engel believes that she has been told to give away her thousands of hearts, and so she "frees" gargoyles from their stone and gives them hearts
  • Near-Death Experience
  • Nerds Are Virgins: Wildly subverted with The Narrator, who claims to be a book lover and probably something of a Closet Geek among the people he used to hang out with.
  • Never Found the Body: Marianne Engel, after she walks into the sea, and Tom
  • No Fourth Wall: The Narrator regularly refers to "this story" and "this book" and addresses the reader directly, often acknowledging things that seem unbelievable or speculating about the reader's reaction to certain things.
  • No Name Given: We are never told the narrator's name, not even when Marianne Engel carves it into her chest with a chisel
  • Omniglot: Marianne Engel possesses supernatural language skills, understanding languages she has never been taught.
  • Parental Neglect: The Graces are drug addicts and basically do nothing to raise The Narrator
  • Power Tattoo: Marianne Engel is covered in 'em
  • Really 700 Years Old: Played with. Marianne Engel claims to be this, but everyone is skeptical of the claim. After her death, the Narrator discovers two previously unknown and carefully preserved German and Italian translations of The Inferno in her safe deposit box. They were also scientifically dated to the time period that Marianne Engel claims to have first met the Narrator...meaning her initial story may or may not be true. He ultimately decides to keep both copies, while giving a nudge to the researchers on where to continue their research.
  • Reincarnation Romance: Maybe. Marianne Engel claims that she has been waiting for centuries for the Narrator to resurface. She also vaguely implies that each of the stories she tells him are actually of their previous lives together.
  • Rescue Romance: On several levels.
  • Ret-Gone: An in-universe example — Marianne's 13th-century work translating the Inferno was erased from history because she left the convent and got married.
  • Scars Are Forever: The Narrator's burns, to be sure, but before that, the mysterious scar on his chest, which is later revealed to be from being shot with an arrow in his past life — twice. Maybe.
  • Seeking Sanctuary: Used a few times in the 13th century plot.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Sayuri and Gregor, although her parents aren't actually all that mad.
  • Shout-Out: Marianne Engel has sold her gargoyles to "one writer who is almost universally recognized as the king of the horror genre," as well as a "director known for his highly poetic films about outcasts" who has "a mop of wild dark hair" that resembles Marianne Engel's.
  • Shown Their Work: Davidson clearly did a shit-ton of research about burns and burn treatment.
  • Smart People Know Latin: Marianne Engel is really fond of Latin (she even has a penchant for speaking to herself in Latin). She also becomes something of a wise mentor to the protagonist, teaching him about the Power of Love.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: In the 13th-century story — subverted, kind of, because the baby dies, or is 'taken' from her by God somehow
  • Switching P.O.V.: The modern-day story is told by the unnamed burned man; the other stories are told by Marianne Engel, in the second person when she's telling him what she believes to be their story from another time. The "bitchsnake" (i.e., the evil part of the narrator's mind) also pops in with commentary now and again.
  • The Ophelia: Marianne Engel has shades of this. She is beautiful, romantic and idealistic, firmly believing in The Power of Love, but also clearly unhinged, having been committed to a mental hospital more than once.
  • The Pornomancer: The Narrator is this before his accident, rather literally
  • The Power of Love: The running theme of the novel. No matter what happens, Marianne Engel and the Narrator belong together and love gives them the will the live after tragedy.
  • The Storyteller: Marianne Engel. Good grief.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The Narrator's planned suicide is decidedly over-the-top, and his death in the 13th century: beaten, shot at, nailed to a wall and slowly burned alive is also rather elaborate and agonizing, leading to Marianne's Mercy Kill.
  • Thinking Out Loud: Marianne Engel often does it in Latin. Sometimes she's talking to her unseen Three Masters, but at other times, she's just speaking to herself out loud:
    Climbing the stairs, we could hear her talking to herself excitedly in Latin.
  • To Hell and Back: Literally... well, sort of. He's detoxing from morphine and debates internally about whether he's hallucinating, but then eventually decides not. The experience is highly meaningful, anyway.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The burned man believes Marianne Engel to be this for a while,'s debatable
  • Wipe That Smile Off Your Face: The Narrator says this to the eternally cheerful Sayuri, complete with racist slur. (He apologizes, though.) Funny thing was he wasn't racist. Considering just how much the Narrator knows about Japan, it implies he's very interested in the Japanese culture. He just wanted to piss her off and thought that was the best way. (It wasn't.)