Posted by: billpurdue | February 26, 2009

44 A cleverley sculpted novel

gargoyleI feel there should be a warning for those of a nervous disposition at the start of this book: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson [Canongate £7.99 9781847671691] is on the current Richard and Judy list and begins with an horrific car accident in which the main character, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, loses control of his car which plunges down a precipice and bursts into flames. He suffers extensive burns, but the author doesn’t spare the reader in graphically describing how he is consumed by the fire. We are even given ways of simulating the effects of these burns at home (but please don’t try it!). Miraculously the hero (if you can call him that) survives, but spends many months in the burns unit of the hospital and it is here that the bulk of the first half of the novel is set.

Whilst in hospital a patient from the psychiatric wing begins to take great interest in him (the main character remains nameless throughout the novel). Her name is Marianne Engel and she is a sculptor of grotesque statues and gargoyles. She insists that she has known him in another life in Europe in the 14th Century and bit by bit she relates the story of her life at that time and how they met. These episodes are interspersed with a description of the treatment he receives – and again we are not spared the details.

Eventually the main character is well enough to leave hospital and Marianne offers to look after him at her spacious residence where she spends hours sculpting her strange statues which are much sought after by the rich and famous. She claims that she is taking instructions from three beings; meanwhile she is still in the process of relating their previous life in the fourteenth century, but as she nears the end of the story, she is nearing the end of her sculpting career, her last production being not a grotesque edifice, but a likeness of her burns patient. What happens then, you’ll have to find out for yourself.

I have to say it wasn’t a book I was comfortable with, but I needed to find out what happened in the end, so I couldn’t put it down. It’s not for the fainthearted! For more information visit the book’s website and/or look at the author’s profile at the Goodreads site.

… and now for something completely different.

historyOn 28th April 1772, a goat died in Mile End, London. The said goat had circumnavigated the globe twice, not under her own steam of course, but having been taken on two voyages, the first with Captain Wallis and the second with Captain Cook. On 9th February 1893, an artist’s model by the name of Mona performed the world’s first striptease act in Paris and was subsequently arrested. (Some claim that it was Salome who was the first stripper some 2000 years previously) These and other not very useful facts can be found in History without the boring bits by Ian Crofton [Quercus £7.99 978184243744 ] . You could spend hours idly leafing through this book, but as a history book, it’s not a great deal of use.

Leisure through the years

leisureHere’s a book to savour, rather than read; it’s book of monochrome photographs depicting leisure pursuits of all kinds from the late 19th century to the 1970s. Leisure [English Heritage, £9.99 97818507498688] is one of a series  – “The Way We Were” – compiled from photographs in the National Monument Record. There are photos of elephants at Bertram Mills Circus, punting on the Thames at Oxford, cinemas and cafes in art deco style and even clergymen playing table skittles. Lots of nostalgic images in black and white of course.

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