Book Review: The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs

4857614Title: The Angel Maker
Author: Stefan Brijs
Genre: Thriller, Science Fiction, Mystery, Literature
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: December 30th 2008
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A literary page-turner about one man’s macabre ambition to create life-and secure immortality

The village of Wolfheim is a quiet little place until the geneticist Dr. Victor Hoppe returns after an absence of nearly twenty years. The doctor brings with him his infant children-three identical boys all sharing a disturbing disfigurement. He keeps them hidden away until Charlotte, the woman who is hired to care for them, begins to suspect that the triplets-and the good doctor- aren’t quite what they seem. As the villagers become increasingly suspicious, the story of Dr. Hoppe’s past begins to unfold, and the shocking secrets that he has been keeping are revealed. A chilling story that explores the ethical limits of science and religion, The Angel Maker is a haunting tale in the tradition of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein. Brought to life by internationally bestselling author Stefan Brijs, this eerie tale promises to get under readers’ skin.

Before you start reading The Angel Maker, get some tissues ready. Even if it’s just to wipe the sweat of your brow when you’re reading through some of the most suspenseful passages ever written. Or if it’s to wipe your eyes dry when reading a particularly sad part of the book reflecting on the protagonist’s childhood.

The main star of this book is Victor. First claimed to be mentally retarded, under the ‘care’ of nuns in a strict school, he slowly grows to become a genius. While nobody ever understood him in the first years of life because of his erratic behavior, by the time he turns twenty, nobody understands him because of his genius. Eons ahead of others, he wants to devise a way to make clones of himself, to prove to the world that he can, and for a bazillion other complex, psychological reasons. He succeeds, returning to his home village and bringing with him three identical toddlers with a deformity. While the villagers’ opinion ranges from wildly enthusiastic about the new doctor, and applauding him for taking care of his three sons singlehandedly, others have far less approving opinions about the good doctor. When he saves some villager’s lives, he’s gradually accepted into the community. But what the villagers don’t know is the doctor’s dark secret, about where the toddlers came from, and why they’re slowly deteriorating.

I can’t really say anything more out of fear of spoiling the book for you, but let me tell you that The Angel Maker is, above all, a thriller. It poses the question how far we’re willing to go to achieve our goals. How far brilliance and genius can take and individual, and how easily it can destroy them. It asks about what is allowed and what isn’t, and if human life is a too high price to pay. The doctor, Victor, is one of the most intriguing, complex, multi-dimensional characters I’ve ever read about. His childhood is so tragic and sad it made my heart weep for him. Gradually, I began to understand the reasons behind his actions, and the consequences of what he’d done. There is no true villain here. I couldn’t bring myself to see Victor as a true villain. More like a man misled by beliefs and convictions and his own doubts in humanity.

The triples were…adorable. Even if they were weird and creepy, even if they learned at strange rates, even if I’d probably have goosebumps standing in one room with them, they were adorable all the same. Especially when we got to see more of them. That’s what’s so truly sad about this novel. Nobody is happy. Nobody leaves the stage feeling even remotely content. Victor’s experiment comes back to haunt him, the triplets who were meant to be perfect are slowly withering away like flowers wasting away in the sun. Even the nanny isn’t happy, because she’s grown to love these children and she sees what’s happening to them, although she doesn’t understand it completely. Dark and disturbing, that’s how I’d describe The Angel Maker, although it’s a lot more.

I rated this book a three because it’s so darn pessimistic. There’s no positive message anywhere although, if you dig deep enough, there is. The author just fails to touch upon it, or doesn’t want to mention it. The general feeling I had after reading this book was one of sadness. The thriller aspect of it is great though. The book is even downright creepy at times; but it’s an atmospheric eeriness, like you come across in gothic horror novels. It’s not horror as such, but it’s still delightfully creepy. The kind of disturbing feeling that creeps up on you when you least expect it, that sneaks out from under the covers and stares at you in the middle of the night. I read this book on the train and kept glancing at my fellow passengers, half and half expecting some of them would’ve turned into monsters by the time I was finished.

Overall, this is a great book. Ideal to read during a chilly winter night. Give it a try. It’s not thriller-like in the sense of immediate danger, but it’s when you really start to think about it that you’ll feel truly disturbed – at least I did.

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  1. […] “The general feeling I had after reading this book was one of sadness. The thriller aspect of it is great though. The book is even downright creepy at times; but it’s an atmospheric eeriness, like you come across in gothic horror novels. It’s not horror as such, but it’s still delightfully creepy.” I Heart Reading […]

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