EW Slams Andrew Davidson and The Gargoyle

August 1, 2008 at 7:35 pm | Posted in Reading | 33 Comments
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My weekly copy of Entertainment Weekly arrived in the mail today. Per usual when there isn’t an article by Stephen King (I absolutely love his monthly articles!), I went straight to the back to the book review section. I instantly smiled when I saw a picture of Andrew Davidson along with the review of The Gargoyle. My smile didn’t last long, however, when I saw the grade – D. D? I couldn’t believe it. I read the review and I was astonished. The text is short, so I’ll repeat it here:

Doubleday ponied up a reported $1.25 million for Andrew Davidson’s debut novel, The Gargoyle — and if they were paying for just the unintentionally hilarious sentences, that would work out to about $10,000 per howler. This much-hyped book is eye-bulgingly atrocious, packed with medieval history to disguise prose that’s worse than your average Dungeons & Dragons blog. The unnamed narrator is a repugnant coke-addled porno actor (credits include Doctor Giving Bone, I Presume) who, in the first scene, burns himself alive after driving off a bridge while high. He spends the first never-ending 200 pages of the book in the hospital getting taunted by a chatty ”bitchsnake” who lives in his spine, prompting a Herculean bit of alliteration that sounds like Dante’s Inferno translated by Dr. Seuss: ”The sibilant sermons of the snake as she discoursed upon the disposition of my sinner’s soul seemed ceaseless.” Ssssseriously?

Soon, a woman enters — the tattooed Marianne, a carver of stone gargoyles by day who insists that she and the narrator were lovers in the 14th century, when she was a nun and he carried a crossbow. Gradually, the shriveled porno-actor gargoyle learns — awww — to love. But first, Marianne has an amusing moment while eating vegetarian pizza naked. ”A cheese strand dangled from her mouth to the edge of her left nipple,” the narrator reports, ”and I wanted to rappel it like a mozzarella commando to storm her lovely breasts.” The real expert on cheese here is Davidson.

I will willingly concede that my opinion of a book is not Gospel. However, I’m not alone by a long shot. Here is a collection of not only positive reviews of The Gargoyle, but glowing reviews.

The Raabe Review ~ Devourer of Books ~ Book Room Reviews ~ Armchair Interviews ~ Fresh Fiction ~ Traci’s Book Bag ~ So Many Books, So Little Time ~ My Journey Through Reading ~ Muse Books Review

I’m sure there are more and I’d be thrilled to add your voice to my little collection of praise for this wonderful novel. I would also like to suggest that you go to Entertainment Weekly’s website and submit your own grade for this novel. I’d hate for one man’s opinion (Gregory Kirschling) of this novel prevent people from picking up this novel just because it’s in a popular magazine.

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  1. I’m sure that there’s not any book that EVERYONE likes, but the average rating on LibraryThing is 4.32 – not exactly a piece of crap book.

  2. Oof – that is a pretty scathing review. Yikes.

    Have Publisher’s Weekly reviewed it yet?

    While I didn’t think that the book was the be all and end all, when you read those sentences, alone, they *are* pretty terrible. I would say that this is definitely a book where the story overrides some of the more, um, excessive writing.

  3. Jennifer – I haven’t read this – it’s on the TBR stack, but I rarely agree with the grades given by EW.

  4. I haven’t looked at Publisher’s Weekly yet, but I do have to agree that taken out of context those sentences were not appealing. Just as with cuss words in movies, I hadn’t noticed them in the context of the book. I will be interested to see what some of the other “professional” reviewers think.

  5. I am still looking forward to reading this book. So many bloggers who seem to like the same kind of books I do, have loved it. I’ll take their recommendations over a magazine’s any day!

  6. Well, I did say that The Gargoyle is not a book for everyone, and now EW has made that perfectly clear by ensuring that the generally non-literary public will be deprived of this fantastic find. I’m trotting right over to their website to vote now, and I’ll be liking back to this post so my readers can protest as well. The nerve!

  7. […] to Jennifer at The Literate Housewife for calling this to my […]

  8. Oh You totally are reading my mind! Just like you I go immediately to the book section and I yelled out to my husband about it I was so mad they gave it a D. I was going to post about this too but you beat me to it he he! Thanks for posting my review!

  9. Dear Literate Housewife, Devourer of Books, Readerville, Bookroomreviews, and others,

    While I have been fortunate that the majority of reviews for my novel have been quite positive, this does not make it any easier to digest those which are not. At the same time, I realize that no book is for everyone. I have read horrible online reviews of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, my favorite book, and I believe that those reviewers are not incorrect. For them Tess is a one-star book, just as for me it is a five-star book. No review is anything but one person’s opinion, and each opinion is perfectly valid. I would have preferred that Mr. Kirschling liked my book but he did not, and there is little more to be said about that.

    What matters more to me is the enthusiasm of those readers who *do* find that The Gargoyle speaks to them, because this is just about the most for which any writer can hope. So thank you to the Literate Housewife for posting this blog entry and to all who have responded to it, and please know that your efforts mean a great deal to me. Without your comments I might have felt only disappointment in the EW review, but instead I feel joy to know that I have some readers passionate enough to disagree with it.

    Sincerely,
    Andrew Davidson
    Writer of The Gargoyle

  10. I am an EW reader who found this blog because I was searching for more hilarious reviews. This book sounds so bad my whole family was laughing. Wow, rappel off the mozzarella dangling from her vegetarian pizza? And that alliterative sentence, come on, that is objectively awful! The characters also seem completely unrelated to actual people who could actually exist.

    So I was really surprised that most people apparently did not read the same book the EW reviewer read. I am so fascinated by the discrepancy that I would consider reading the book, although I gotta tell you, it sounds BAD.

  11. […] The Gargoyle, thoughtful review versus jank review, Washington Post Over the weekend my opinion of book reviewers (and those who talk about book bloggers as if they know us) in the mainstream media was trounced.  […]

  12. I loved this book! (And I am pretty snobby–and sometimes snarky–about what I read.) Check out my blog to see my review.

  13. Andrew ~ thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’m glad that we could in some way make your day. At least the reviews are getting better (they must have actually read the book). Good luck!
    __
    Danila, I’m glad that you stopped by and I really do challenge you to read this book. Those sentences sound bad out of context. They didn’t jump out at me like that when I was reading the novel and I remember those sections very well.
    ____
    Jena, great review! I’m going to update this post with your link. Thanks for stopping by!

  14. I’m not saying the sources you note as giving this book a positive review are not credible but it’s hardly a who’s who of literary criticism. A lot of blogs and no Kirkus Reviews.

    “A cheese strand dangled from her mouth to the edge of her left nipple,” the narrator reports, ”and I wanted to rappel it like a mozzarella commando to storm her lovely breasts.”

    If the novel is intended as comedy the above sentence is quite clever. If it is meant to be taken seriously, then it is indeed unintentionally hilarious.

    Lines of prose utilized in a review will almost always be “taken out of context” because the only way to place them in context is to do what? Excerpt a full chapter (at which point the victim of a negative review will then claim the chapter was taken out of context)?

    The sentences excerpted may indeed be total anomalies chosen solely because of their unintentional hilarity, but I know that if I crack a Haruki Murakami novel looking for such lucid examples of purple prose it will only end in frustration.

  15. Rob, I thank you for your comment and you’re right. I’m not on any who’s who list of literary criticism of which I am aware. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t want to be. Those qualifications are not required to point out and disagree with a 243 word review in a pop culture magazine, even if it is one that I love. Since you mentioned the Kirkus Review, here’s what they had to say about The Gargoyle:
    “A romance spanning centuries and continents finds a grotesque narrator redeemed by the love of a woman who claims they first met seven centuries earlier, in this deliriously ambitious debut novel. This spellbinding narrative [is] a credit to the craftsmanship of the Canadian writer…”
    ––– Kirkus Reviews (Starred)

  16. Why the hell do you care if it got a bad a review? Did you expect universal praise, a shower of roses, and a swarm of congratulations?

    My God, find something to do with yourself besides prowling people’s opinions.

  17. Shaena…isn’t that what you are doing?

  18. I think to sum up a book based on one line, is to sum up a person based off of one action. It can be done but you miss what surrounds the person, in this case the book. I understand many people like the easy route so to be able to sum up something very simple can be seen as some as efficient. Yes the book is long, but the amount of substance the book has is amazing. There are so many lenses that one can look at this text. Feminist, Marxist, Deconstruction, Post-Colonial are some of the few lenses that can be incorporated to analyze the text. Besides I am no speed reader but I was able to finish the book within a weekend.

    Bottom line, reviews can be helpful but ultimately I would say read anything. Read horrible books, great books, and anything in between, but do not let one person’s voice determine how you are supposed to think. Where is the passion, the life and excitement behind that?

    “Go outside… live life… be free…”

  19. Well said, Francisco! Thank you so much for your comment.

  20. I L*O*V*E*D this book – just read it in two sittings. While his first timer status is evident in places it is so GD good that it’s easily overlooked.

  21. Too many similes. That’s it. And forget taking it easy with candy-coated criticism. Davidson sold this book for big money, and it ought to be reacted to/against honestly. The prose is bad. I’m sorry, but that’s just the truth. That doesn’t mean that you can’t like the book. Or think that it’s good. And I’m sure that Davidson is a fine person. But his sentences, taken in sum, read like a hardboiled detective novel that’s sat too long on Milton Berle’s beside table. How many puns? How many wisecracks? How many pithy, whispered punchlines? If Davidson were Woody Allen, I could understand. But he’s not a comic novelist. Is he supposed to be a cynic? Fine, he’s a cynic, but not a particularly funny one.

    I didn’t like Herzog, but it worked. I thought that Absalom, Absalom! was like reading (on) broken glass, but the depth of the prose was just impressive. Davidson wrote a bad burlesque of a Showtime movie meets The English Patient meets Red Dragon.

  22. Sarah and Eli, I really appreciate what you have both said about this book. Eli, had you written the review for EW, I wouldn’t have been upset at all. You bring up valid points and are honest with your assessment. Now I wish that I have read Absalom, Absalom! I have read Light in August twice, but although I loved it, I haven’t read any other Faulkner. Thanks so much for your comments.

  23. Reading over my post, I realize that it’s too pointed by half. So thank you for seeing the nascent argument that’s half-hidden by overreaction. The EW review was a capsule joke. It’s the kind of thing you’d hear coming out of Glenn Beck’s mouth. There’s really an opportunity here to produce a rigorous appraisal of Davidson’s work, but you can’t rely on a ‘paper or a magazine to get this one right. Reading the first hundred pages, I saw the influence of countless novels, sit-coms, movies, old radio shows, and famous stand-up routines. Someone could point out the difference between literature and fiction; someone could make the point that this is more of a novelization than a novel. I’d like to read an analysis of Davidson’s use of mysticism, and the possibility that this novel is such a commercial success because of its genre bending. Look at Stealing Dawn. I wouldn’t read that on a coconut husk raft in the middle of the South Pacific. But it sells more than Great Gatsby reprints. So go figure.

    But, for some reason, the adulation just bothered me. And it still does. Davidson’s unwittingly done something kinda interesting: he’s written a commercial novel that combines easily digestible insights with a sci-fi love story. It’s like Tuesdays with Morrie and an Anne Rice novel all in one. A good way to make money, but a Marian Engel (CanLit reference; Engel was a mid-tier author of serious, and I mean serious, fiction. See The Glassy Sea, Bear, etc.) he’s not.

  24. When I sat down with Andrew Davidson yesterday to do yet another review for the Winnipeg Free Press I asked him about his critics. He cheerfully pointed out to me who they were so before I wrote the first sentence I read the reviews in Time and EW.
    But here is the rub. I had the choice of doing an interview and review. I read The Gargoyle in two sittings in two days. It was very entertaining and enjoyable and I did not feel compelled to pick it apart any more than I would scratch at a painter’s canvas.
    You can enjoy something or someone as a sum of the parts. Antrew did very well.
    Brian Huycke
    Pinawa MB. Canada

  25. I loved The Gargoyle. I am a simple, non snobbish every day reader of books. I do not belong to a book club. I read a few chapters, or more, before I turn out the lights at night. I plan to tell all my girlfriens about this book because I loved the message………..which perhaps was lost in how the prose were written and all you you snobs seemed to miss……..as usual.
    This is what will make a very successful writer……….the selling of books.

  26. Wow…how about a big kick in the rear end to the EW reviewer. I’m only half-way through the book, but I can’t put it down…love it, and will be hard-pressed to find another book this year that will leave me this impressed!

  27. well…I actually did cringe at those lines. And there were some other ones that were pretty terrible. But style aside, the story is great and I couldn’t put it down. I finished it in 3 days!

    I did think it was overly-planned, though. I mean, 33 chapters like the 33 cantos in the Inferno. Sometimes it felt just a bit to forced.

    But I would recommend it to anyone.

  28. This book was indeed poorly written and howlingly bad. The prose was hilarious, although that wasn’t Andreew Davidson’s intention. Anyone who liked this book should expose him or herself to some good, quality literature that is actually well written. (Might I suggest you start with Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Geraldine Brooks?)

    Also, there were passages in this book that were completely blasphemous. I won’t repeat the filth here, but Andrew Davidson needs to seek God’s forgiveness for some of the things he wrote about Jesus Christ in this book. Anyone who is a Christian (or who merely has good morals) would be offended by this novel.

    I’m sure most of you will disagree with me or label me as a religious fanatic, and that’s your right should you choose to do so. For those of you who do, I’ll pray for you.

  29. oh please, as fiction, this is one great book to loose yourself in over a winter snowstorm!
    The rest of you who feel you must dissect every reference, etc, etc need to just breathe and enjoy
    Thank you Andrew for a great story to get lost in!

    Linda …mew years day 2009
    Well said, Linda! Thank you.

  30. Funny, I’m not an avid reader. I rarely ever finish books when I read them. If they do not hold my interest, I stop. I went to the library the other day in search of my annual find. They didn’t have anything on the shelves I had any interest in reading, so I looked on. Over on the display there was The Gargoyle. I looked at it, thought a minute… picked it up and read the inside of the sleeve. I found the discription good enough to check the book out. I started reading right away, I was excited to about it. Now you see, I’m a busy wife and mother, plus I work full time. There is not a whole lot of time for me, so I usually nap, or find something to do on the computer when given the chance. The first few pages were the ones that got me. I had to stop briefly, as I had to put the kids to bed. When I picked it up again, I read for the next 6 hours! I had to work last night, and I was disappointed that I only had time to read 4 pages.

  31. First I have to say that I loved this book. Not because I’m blind to its faults and cheesy lines. Actually I love this book because despite all that it was a fantastic read that I couldn’t put down. I think its really great that people can comment so freely about what they think of the book. I do however take offense when people think that somehow their opionion is the be all and end all. If you didn’t like the book that’s fine but don’t think for one second that, that makes the rest of us literary idiots. I too have read my fair share of writers like Salman Rushdie, Gabriel García Márquez and Arundhati Roy, that doesn’t mean I can tell people what kind of fiction they SHOULD be enjoying.

  32. I have read bad books. “Gargoyle” is not one of them. It was well researched and kept me interested until the very end. Admittedly, parts of the book where hard to read because of their graphic nature but all good books need to provoke a reaction in the reader, whatever it may be. If an author does that then he’s done his job, Mr. Davidson has done this wonderfully with his story. The EW review was unfairly harsh and classifying it as one of the worst 5 books of the year is even worse. One of the books they claimed was a top ten book, I couldn’t get past the first fifty pages. That’s okay, everyone has their own taste but debasing an author’s very hard work they way EW did is just wrong. I look forward to his next book, EW be damned.

  33. Thanks for the good writeup. It if truth be told used to be a entertainment account it. Glance advanced to far delivered agreeable from you! However, how can we keep up a correspondence?


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