Andrew Davidson’s book is a series of balancing acts. His characters represent extremes and his stories come very close to being over-the-top, but somehow he manages to maintain the balance just when you are ready to give up on him. Once beautiful, the narrator is now burned beyond recognition due to a car crash. One feels the slightest twinge of sympathy for him, because he had a horrible childhood, but there is little about him that is redeeming. Enter Marianne Engel. Where the narrator is a cynic, she is a true-believer. A visitor from the psychiatric ward, Marianne Engel weaves stories that are intertwined, fabulous, romantic – the kind that would make the narrator balk. Against his better nature, something about the difference appeals to him. Perhap’s it’s because she doesn’t see anything wrong with reading Dante’s Inferno to a burn victim. Marianne is an unforgettable, persuasive yet elusive character. She seems innocent and naive yet she smokes like a chimney and is covered in tattoos. I loved her stories within the story with medieval monastaries, a scriptorium, glass-blowers, mercenaries, and vikings. Belief and doubt was another balancing act that I could never quite work out and that was what made the novel so good.