Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Book Review: Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

I got hold of this book by pure chance, when I stepped into a Waterstone's bookstore near Leicester Square in London, just before they closed, and they had this "Buy 2, get 1 free" offer. I already had "Sepulchre" by Kate Mosse and "Vlad: The Last Confession" by C.C. Humphries in my hands, and was actually prepared to leave the shop with only two books as it was already so late, but the assistant asked me if I didn't want my third book after all, and so I just picked out a random book whose cover I liked, and which turned out to be "Gargoyle". It had the slogan "love is as strong as death, as hard as hell" written on it, together with a heart in flames and a small stone gargoyle, so I couldn't possibly pass it up! I love darker, gothic romances (no happy ends for me!), and so it immediately attracted my curiosity. The story begins in the present, with a nameless man who is badly burned in a car accident, and his subsequent suffering and eventual recovery at the hospital. Being a great beauty (at least physically) before his accident, he now has a hard time dealing with the fact that he has been turned into a "monster". The first part of the novel is rather graphic and sometimes borders on gross, but once you have made your way through the first 100 pages, you're rewarded with a story of exceptional beauty. "Gargoyle" revolves around the character of Marianne Engel, who walks into the narrator's life one day and tells him they used to be lovers almost 700 years ago. She gradually reveals this medieval love story by telling it in parts, and this story is what fascinated me most in this novel, apart from the intricately woven worlds of fantasy and reality which become harder and harder to tell apart when the fantastic tales of Marianne Engel see to be proven by things in real life. According to the story, the narrator - in his past life - is an ex-mercenary who is badly burned and nursed back to health at the convent where Marianne lives as an apprentice at the scriptorium. The two fall in love and eventually decide to leave the monastery. Because of his disfigurement and mercenary past, the narrator has some trouble finding work as a stone mason, his other profession (it was here that I was reminded, once again, of Erik: disfigured ex-asssassin and master mason. The narrator draws the comparison between himself and the Phantom of the Opera explicitely twice in the novel as well, but mostly in regard to his disfigurement), but finally succeeds and some years of happiness for the two ensue. But their pasts will eventually return to haunt them both...

For me, the thing that truly makes a book is its ending. You can ruin the greatest story if you give it an ending that is sappy, too inconclusive, out of character or in any other way unsatisfactory. Based on Dante's "Inferno", "Gargoyle" delivers an admirable ending to all of its stories - my favourite being the one of the medieval love story: it's haunting, tragic, poignant - and perfect.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Love Never Dies

The sequel to the Phantom of the Opera musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber is probably one of them most anticipated and most vilified musical project of this year and possibly even of this entire decade. Hardly any reliable information regarding the score, casting and plot is out there apart from several contradictory rumours spread across the net, and yet most Phans are already fearing the undoing of their beloved legend. Myself though, I am pretty excited to see what Love Never Dies will be like, and especially to hear the score ALW is going to come up with, hoping for another stroke of genius from him. Am I strange?? I have to admit that I am quite new to the Phandom, and fell in love with the music and story when I saw the 2004 movie. After I had seen it, I ran out to buy Gaston Leroux' original (unabridged) novel as well as Susan Kay's "Phantom" and fell in love with those two versions as well. Especially Leroux' novel intrigued and fascinated me, because it leaves so much to the imagination and so many things open to interpretation. After that, I went to London to see the stage show, which was a wonderful experience, and I also got to watch the 1990 TV miniseries. And now I can hardly wait to see Love Never Dies, which (I hope) will be a breathtaking experience! I think it is still possible for it to come out great, if the music is able to convey the necessary passion, longing and also its share of darkness and despair, if they portray the characters convincingly and the actors are all up to their roles. Even though the plot might be a little weird, if they get it across in a convincing way it will probably save the whole thing.

Another thing that makes me curious about LND is the setup, which reminds me one of the books I used to love most when I was a teenager - and I'm not talking about Phantom of Manhattan here! The book I mean is called "Spiegelzeit" ("Time of the Mirrors") by one of the most celebrated german authors of fantasy: Wolfgang Hohlbein. This book contains so many elements that remind me of LND, such as:
*it is set in a late 19th/early 20th century fun fair
*a magical mirror maze and a freak show (which is incidentally owned by a disfigured magician who was badly burned in the great fire that destroyed the fun fair, and who prefers to stay incognito by actually serving as one of his own "exhibits"...) both play a major role in the story
*there is a love triangle
*it is a tale both of redemption (the father of the main character, a magician, must right the wrongs of his past and sacrifice himself) and of the contrast between inner and outer beauty an ugliness (the mirrors in this story are magical and show a person's true soul - for example, the burnt magician is beautiful when looked at in mirror, while the staring crowd at the freak show looks like a bunch of evil monsters)

It may all sound a little strange if you haven't read the book, but it is a beautiful story and I found the whole atmosphere at the old funfair extremely captivating. This is probably why I am so hopeful about LND - I know the Coney Island thing is a major turn-off for many Phans, especially when compared to the Opéra Garnier, but I am sincerely hoping that LND will be able to evoke the same magic as this book...

The only thing I was REALLY confused about was the date given -1907. WTF?? The original book is set in about 1880, the movie gives 1870 as the date - how the hell did they come up with 1907? If they want it to be 10 years after the first Phantom, the only date which would make sense would be counting from 1896, the year when the real chandelier accident happened...