The Gargoyle is already the most hyped debut novel of the year. Penned by Andrew Davidson, a 39-year-old native of Winnipeg in Canada, the book is not the regular run-of-the-mill first-time effort from a promising newbie. The Gargoyle is expected to smash records and the publishers are backing the book to the hilt with a substantial worldwide marketing campaign.
In the coming months, we are going to be hearing a lot about Andrew Davidson and his book concerning a cynical and vain drug-addled porn star burned to a crisp in horrible car accident. While on the slow painful road to recovery, the now-suicidal ex-porn star meets an apparently crazy gargoyle sculptor, who claims she's known him for 700 years dating back to her time as a nun in a medieval German monastery. OK?
The book had plenty of supporters from the word go. Apparently, Doubleday won the US book rights alone with a $1.25 million bid at auction after Davidson's agent, Eric Simonoff, turned down an offer of $1 million.
Even though Sara Gruen of Water for Elephants fame said she was "blown away" by the book and Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote Davidson had "vigorous and impressive narrative skill", the author is remarkably calm about the hype and what the coming months hold.
"Obviously, I am hoping a lot of books are going to be sold," said Davidson, who spent seven years writing The Gargoyle. "But I know it is out of my hands now. I'm trying to be level-headed and not be affected either way by what people are saying.
"It's turning out to be different from what I expected – I didn't expect to be doing interviews on a cell-phone while sitting on the side of the road. It's been a long journey – finding an agent, re-editing the book myself, getting a deal and more re-editing."
Comparisons have come thick and fast. Someone says the medieval theme surrounding the sculptor's prior life in 14th century Germany makes it like Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Someone else says the burns theme makes it like Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient. Some people are saying it's going to simply sell like Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code because of its numerous historical and religious themes. "All these comparisons are very flattering," said Davidson, who has yet to see a member of the public reading The Gargoyle. "It's not for me to judge whether they are accurate because all these authors have careers and a history of great books behind them."
Although no-one seems to have made the comparison, The Gargoyle could be likened to Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Anansi Boys for its clever plot, and Gaiman's knack of producing dark, menacing copy.
Although significant chunks of the book take place in medieval Germany, Davidson claims not to be a student of history but rather a fan of fairytales. "I love the Grimm Brothers stories but I wouldn't say I'm that interested in history. What happens is that I find a topic I am interested in – such as medieval Germany or glass blowing in Japan – and then I attempt to research it as meticulously as possible. I go 100 pages into a book and find a fact so fascinating that I find a way of working into my story."
The Gargoyle opens with a detailed description of the narrator's fiery car crash. It's almost a slow motion flame-by-flame account of the injuries as his car is engulfed by fire. Davidson doesn't mince his copy. He carries on with highly detailed descriptions of the victim's lengthy treatment and rehabilitation in a burns unit.
When I remarked that these early passages were fascinating, Davidson replied: "People usually describe them as graphic rather than interesting. I'm not squeamish and I am fascinated with the whole process of treating burns. I read, and read, and read. I looked at medical journals, personal accounts and everything I could find."
Davidson, who spent five years working in Japan where he began writing the book, also has acute appreciation of how a burns victim mentally suffers when they venture out in public for the first time. "I'm aware that people look at the burn not the person," said Davidson, who ensures his vain porn star narrator loses the most important part of a male porn star's anatomy in the inferno. It will be interesting to see what actual burns victims make of The Gargoyle.
The book is a true page-turner but its complex series of mini-stories intertwined within the main narrative can be ultimately boiled down to a simple love story.
The Gargoyle website shows the diversity of the author's influences. It lists Davidson's favorite novels as Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Perfume, The Bone People, Lolita, Frankenstein and A Prayer for Owen Meany among others. Recommended reading includes Dante's The Divine Comedy, The King James 1611 Bible and Severe Burns: A Family Guide to Medical and Emotional Recovery by Andrew M Munster.
Davidson's life in the coming months will consist mostly of airports, hotels and answering questions about being literature's new boy on the block. "I have just been to Toronto, San Francisco and Seattle, and New York is coming up at the end of the month. And then there is going to be Germany, UK and Spain."
When asked what books he would be taking with him on his travels, Davidson said he would be reading books that were given to him. "Someone handed me Traffic, Why We Drive the Way We Do (by Tom Vanderbilt) and I'm finding that interesting. I'm not a collector myself but I love to give books away."