The main conflict in this novel is whether or not we believe Marianne. Do we? Don't we? We may not, because Marianne came across the narrator when he was in the hospital, recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident (more to come on this). She was patient at the time as well. While it is never explicitly stated that Marianne was in the psych ward, I believe it is alluded to. That leaves readers wondering if Marianne was a bit off her rocker—finding the narrator and creating the stories she tells him.
Why might we believe Marianne? The proof is in the books. The proof is in the books left in the safety deposit box after her death. The proof is in the scar on the narrator's chest that Marianne, and her past identities, know exists. The proof is the fact that Marianne's predictions about her own fate come true (more to come on this).
I always enjoy when a writer leaves you with subtle evidences that support each side of an argument. That means (to me, anyways) that the writer believes in his readers. He has enough faith in you and your intelligence. He believes that you can make up your own mind. In our book club, we were allowed to explore both sides of the argument. Was Marianne crazy? sane? Who knows?
That begs the question. If Marianne's story is, in fact, accurate and true, how did she know where to find the narrator? Members suggested that if all facets of the story were true, that she would know. There would be forces stronger than the explained at work, pulling her toward him like a magnet. If we are to believe that she chanced upon him, then we may be left doubting other—or all—parts of Marianne's story.
As promised, more about Marianne's fate. One of the strongest arguments that supports our belief in Marianne is that fact that she died upon completing her last gargoyle, as she predicted she would. However, she died at her own hand. It is unclear whether we can use the death as solid proof because of the fact that she willingly walked into the water. Perhaps she was compelled so strongly that she was unable to stop it? The reader doesn't really know. That's the joy of writing like Davidson's. Again, we are left to our own devices, and rest assured, we are each smart enough to make our own inferences regarding Marianne's death.
Marianne's death by water is allegorical. In classical literature, water often represents rebirth, or a cleansing. As a liver of many past lives, death by water is especially symbolic. Perhaps it is not the end, as suggested by the heart left to the narrator.
Fire = Hell. That's nothing new. But Davidson's description of the fiery hell that consumed the narrator is groundbreaking. Davidson takes descriptive literature to whole new level. It is horrifying to read the narrator's description of being burned alive in his own personal hell—one that he practically hand-built for himself. However, there is something hauntingly beautiful about it. Classically, fire sometimes represented cleansing too.
I LOVED the tie-in the Dante's inferno. Dante's journey through Hell is reflected in the narrator's journey. The first letter of every chapter in The Gargoyle spells "All things in a single book bound by love." This is derived from Dante's line in the Paradiso Canto: All things in a single volume bound by love. The last letter of every chapter spells "Die liebe ist stark wie der tod, Marianne." That translates into: Love is as strong as death, Marianne.
This book was heavy on repeated imagery and themes. Repeated themes included faith, energy, infertility, absentee fathers, abandonment, waiting for a loved one's return, belief vs. doubt, and sanity vs. insanity. The book also played very heavily on both the themes and images of the elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Another image that continued to come up was arrows. The narrator, according to Marianne, had been shot with a arrow in a past life, resulting in the scar on his chest. The narrator also hallucinated arrows, causing the fiery crash. Another image that kept coming up was food. The author describes the many food spreads created by Marianne in great details. Many members of the book club did not like the food descriptions much! They were pages long, and at times, I agree, a bit much. However, Davidson's strength as a writer certainly seems to be in his ability to write scrupulous descriptions!
Love it or hate it, I believe everyone should read The Gargoyle. If not for anything else, at least for the chance to decide for yourself if Marianne's story is true.
Thanks Lynn, for hosting in September. You have a lovely home, and you "make" insanely delicious lemon-coconut bars. Special thanks to Lynn's husband, who allowed our book club to invade his home, and steal his wife on his birthday.
October's meeting is on the 20th. We will be discussing Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin. We will meet at the usual Chapters/Starbucks location. See you all there!