I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this book. Overall this book delivered a story that was much more than I as expecting and much broader. The research that had to have gone into this book is amazing and the story both sweet and bitter. I listened to this on audio book and it was a great story to listen to; it had a very lyrical quality to it and I think listening to it added to the beauty of the story.
The story starts out with the narrator telling about the car crash that left him recovering in the burn ward. From there we take part in his recovery in the burn ward, learn about his past, and meet Marianne, a woman from the psychiatric ward. Marianne befriends the narrator and aides in his recovery by recounting stories of friends in her past. Eventually the narrator leaves the burn ward and moves in with Marianne; they struggle both with the narrator’s morphine addition and Marianne’s psychosis. This is a quick synopsis; but the book is about so much more than that.
Let me start by saying I really loved and enjoyed this book. Let me also say that this is not a book for the faint at heart. The descriptions of what happens in a burn ward will have your stomach turning with nausea and your knees weak in sympathetic pain. The descriptions of the narrators’ former career (as a porn star) may also be too much for some. I should also mention that the pace of this book is deliberate, it kindly of gently winds itself around you while slowly creating tension and making you wonder what will both happen to the narrator and to Marianne as she gives up her hearts to the gargoyles she carves.
The worst part of the book for me was the pace; sometimes I wished the book would pick it up a little bit but this was also part of the beauty of the book. This slower pace really conveyed how the narrator dealt with the expanses of time he spent recovering from his burns.
There were a number of things I absolutely loved about this book. Marianne for one. Marianne was such a gracious and interesting character. She had equal parts toughness, madness, wisdom, and vulnerability. Yet, she was so certain in her destiny.
I also loved the detail that the author put into certain aspects of the story. I enjoyed the detail about how burn victims recover, the detail spent on how people are diagnosed with schizophrenia or manic depression, and the detail on the history of Marianne’s supposed abbey.
I loved Marianne’s stories. Marianne’s stories were like small novellas in and of themselves. The stories were creative, always bittersweet, and always filled with interesting historical detail. I, like the narrator, always looked forward to one of Marianne’s new stories.
Best of all I loved the story itself. The narrator deals with so much pain and changes dramatically throughout the novel. He makes a comment at one point of how ironic it is that when he was beautiful he acted ugly and now that he is ugly he has learned how to be beautiful. The narrator and Marianne deliver a story of pain, hope and incredible history tinged with a bit of fantastical mystery.
All I can say is that whatever you think this book is from the synopsis; it will be different from what you think. It will be both more beautiful and more gruesome. If you start the book and are irritated with the pace; I can only suggest that you hang in there because the journey is worth it. I will definitely be checking out more of Davidson’s book; even though this book was outside of what I normally read.