Nothing extraordinary ever happens in the small, Dutch town of Wolfheim – that is until Dr. Victor Hoppe returns home after a twenty-year absence. He brings with him three young babies, all with his flame-red hair and a facial disfigurement that has plagued Hoppe throughout his life. The town is thrown into an uproar by this new development; they have to ask why Hoppe has returned to Wolfheim after so many years. More than that, they have to ask who these babies are. Judging from their identical appearances, they must be Hoppe’s children, but then who is their mother? The mystery thickens when Hoppe opens his doors to the town, fulfilling his role as the residents’ local GP.
Patients begin to flood the surgery, each desperate to catch a glimpse of one of the mysterious babies. Yet Hoppe keeps his children out of sight, and, after a couple of years, residents begin to understand why. These children aren’t normal. Not only do they suffer from Hoppe’s facial disfigurement: they are bald, have overly-large heads, and begin to develop deep circles under their eyes. The older they grow, the more obvious it is that there is something seriously wrong with these children. They don’t act like children, but then what are they?
The Angel Maker tells a haunting tale of one man who breaks the limitations of contemporary science, superseding the role of God as he strives for the impossible.
The Angel Maker is a book that can only be described as a ‘contemporary classic’. This gothic tale draws on traditional writing styles, echoing Frankenstein (1818) and Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) as it explores the story of Dr. Victor Hoppe, a scientist determined to challenge – and supersede – the role of God.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this book is the way in which it is written. Many contemporary books tend to focus on a protagonist – one who is (often) a hero. This is not the case with The Angel Maker, and this is partly why I suggest it is a ‘contemporary classic’. Written from a third-person perspective, it can be argued that this book doesn’t really have a protagonist. Or, if it does, this is certainly a morally ambiguous character. We also rarely glimpse his thoughts; instead, we are offered others’ descriptions of him that form a collage-like narrative that is reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897).
It is difficult to compare this work to anything else. It is highly original, and also interesting. The story considers the progression of science – though never in a way that alienated me – as it considers the infamous dichotomy of science and religion. I felt invested in the lives of the children, and felt a lot of genuine emotions as I was reading – shock and disgust amongst them.
Unfortunately, this disgust did become a little too much for me at one point. Brijs describes, in what I would argue is an unnecessary level of detail, a woman’s miscarriage. I could imagine that this alone would deter some readers from picking this book up, but the way in which it is described is truly unsettling – which, in fairness, may have been Brijs’ intention. The other main issue I had with this book was a structural point – the novel is split into three sections, two of which are divided into nice, bite-sized chapters. The middle section, however, contains no chapters at all. This inconsistency irritated me, as I had begun section two believing that I would soon come to the end of a chapter, but I never did.
Overall, however, The Angel Maker is an exceptional example of contemporary gothic literature. It provides a thought-provoking narrative that questions a lot of issues, including morality, religion, the potential of science, and parenthood. Yet despite such a variety of considerations, The Angel Maker remains a compelling story that is sure to keep its readers compelled.