Pornography, burns victims, Vikings, past lives, nuns, a Love Story that Transcends Time and Death... it's not hard to imagine the pitch that persuaded Canongate to drop a million-odd on the rights to this debut novel. With a darkness 'n' flames cover that screams necrodelic chic, but with an uncomplicated and yearning little heart at its centre, this is the book that you'd file in first place if there were a shelfmark for Goth. But is it any good?
Andrew Davidson's nameless narrator, hallucinating wildly on cocaine and bourbon, runs his car off the road and burns himself to a crisp. Coming round in hospital, hideously disfigured, he submits to burn treatment and reconstructive surgery, all of which – multiple skin grafts, slathering with ointments, and something called débridement, where necrotic skin is scraped away with a kind of razor blade – are catalogued with ghoulish enthusiasm in the book's first quarter.
Furthermore, our man becomes convinced that his spine is inhabited by a large snake, whose comments are represented in the text by strips of that embossed sticky-tape DyMo stuff from the 1980s. (It's never made quite clear why the snake, or why the DyMo.) Then he begins to receive visits from Marianne Engel, a tattooed former psychiatric patient who claims that he was her lover in a former life, when she was a pregnant runaway medieval nun and he was a mercenary.
The Gargoyle goes downhill fast with Marianne's programme of palliative care, as the narrator moves out of his hospital ward to live with her (in a house, by a churchyard, where she carves gargoyles). The book soon becomes a sort of airport version of If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, as she launches into a series of half-baked historical tales advertising the possibility of love outlasting death. Some of these are a bit like World of Warcraft fan fiction, others more like the Mills & Boon Desire range. "When Sigurd was only nine, his father disappeared on an ice floe and, not long after, his mother went to sleep, never to wake up." "Tom was a rougher sort of man than Victoria generally knew but there was no denying the delight she felt each time she ran into him, accidentally on purpose, during the following weeks." Our ' narrator appears enraptured, as perhaps only a man with limited mobility who's already planned his own suicide can be.
This is basically tosh, but there may just be enough straight-facedly unsubtle metaphor-making, enough earnest literary allusions from Dante to Meister Eckhart, and enough touching faith in the power of naked sentimentality to sell books to make this a weird cult hit, some extremely silly writing notwithstanding. "A cheese strand dangled from her mouth to the edge of her nipple, and I wanted to rappel it like a mozzarella commando to storm her lovely breasts." Pizza, at least, may never be the same again.Reuse content