So this was the third of the Richard & Judy choices and after the first two brilliant reads plus knowing that some of them to come are fantastic I was slightly worried that this one could be a complete dud. From the blurb of the novel I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy this. “A young man is fighting for his life. Into his room walks a bewitching woman who believes she can save him. Their journey will have you believing in the impossible.” It sounded like it might be a bit of a clichéd romance novel. The book looks stunning by the way, you can see the cover in the picture what you cant see is the black edges of the pages which Canongate also did with ‘The End of Mr Y’ which I sadly didn’t get on with.
This book isn’t a cliché in the slightest. At the start of the novel we meet our ‘unnamed’ hero, and what an unlikely hero he is a drug taking, vain porn star. I didn’t want to like him but you simply cannot help yourself with all he goes through. The book starts instantly with action as we find him driving drunk and drugged when he suddenly sees a set of arrows flying through the sky. Unsure whether he is hallucinating from the drugs or seeing the real thing he swerves to avoid it crashing the car which soon sets alight.
In hospital he has no one (as you will learn through his back story) so when Marianne Engel turns up at his bedside telling him she knows him he doesn’t know what’s going on, he wonders if it’s the effects of morphine. When she returns and announces that she has known him since the year 1300 simply adds to his thoughts that she is in fact crazy. Plus the issue that she is also in the psychiatric ward occasionally as a patient doesn’t help. However being alone with no other visitors and so he decides to humour her and listen to the story of her life over 700 years and the story of how they might have met, if he decides to believe her that is.
I loved the character of Marianne Engel, I think that she is one of the most unusual and wonderful heroine I have read in a long time. I did sit in wonderment at where Davidson had created such an amazing woman from and where did he get the idea of a job as a gargoyle sculptor from? I think I will be hard pushed to find such an original character again this year and we are only in February. The history with the two of them if fascinating and takes you on a real adventure and adds an extra something to the novel. It added something different and some of the stories you heard Marianne tell our burn victim, dark fairy tales and fables.
Davidson’s writing is vivid, direct and punchy. It is literary without being flowery or over done, he doesn’t need to describe everything and at the same time he still does. That will make sense more when you read it, which of course you will do. There were only two things that put me off a little bit with this book and this is me being objective and not just raving about the book. Occasionally the unnamed narrator talks directly to the reader and will say things like ‘I am only telling you this because…’ and it slightly bothered me as it was inconsistent as it only happened every so often and also a lot of the book was narrated by Marianne. There was also the reference to the snake in his spine which I understood as a metaphor but didn’t feel needed to be in there.
The mixture of romance and horror with history weaved in reminded me in some ways of Chuck Palahniuk, I have only read Haunted by him but have always wanted to give him another go. This book isn’t for the faint hearted and that is a slight warning. The description of being burnt is incredibly vivid and could possibly put of some readers, I advise you to read on even if it isn’t comfortable and can be quite graphic and not just in terms of the burns. As the story goes on we learn a lot about the characters. I couldn’t quite imagine Richard and Judy reading this over their cocoa in bed of an evening. I think this is a sign that they are taking more risks with some books and the more their book group goes on the better I think they get and will get in the future. I really enjoyed this book and possibly wouldn’t have read it without it being part of my Richard and Judy challenge.