Books in Translation Mystery

The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs

The Angel Maker Translated from the Dutch by Hester Velmans

Five words from the blurb: return, Doctor, children, suspicion, past

I first became aware of The Angel Maker when Shannon wrote a compelling 5 star review for it. We often share a taste in books so I immediately ordered a copy from the library.

The Angel Maker has the feel of a Gothic mystery, but it is set in a small Belgian village and contains a wonderful mix of intrigue, science, and religious debate. If any of those don’t appeal, please don’t let that put you off as I know this book will be enjoyed by a wide-cross section of readers. It reminded me of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, but The Angel Maker contained a greater number of themes and I thought it was the more accomplished of the two.

The book begins in 1984 with Dr Victor Hoppe returning to his childhood home with three baby boys. The doctor has been away from the village for many years, researching at a University, and is reluctant to talk about the children. He hides them inside his house and the villagers gossip, becoming increasingly curious about the boys. They do everything they can to spy on the household and their efforts are rewarded by occasional glimpses of the family and an increasing list of suspicious actions.

Helga Barnard, on the other hand, had been passing around an article from Reader’s Digest about people who were allergic to sunlight, and had to live their entire lives in the dark… It wasn’t until September of 1986 that the truth came out – at least in part.

The narrative flipped forwards and backwards in time, revealing what happened in Victor’s childhood, during his time as a research scientist, and eventually the truth about the baby boys. It is very difficult to review this book without spoilers (most reviews give away too much for liking) so I’m afraid I’ll keep things a bit vague and encourage you to find out for yourselves!

The pacing of this book was fantastic. I loved the way little hints were dropped through the text, giving the reader a wonderful sense of foreboding. This made the plot particularly compelling and it felt much shorter than its 440 pages suggest.

One of the things I liked best about this book was the science. It all appeared accurate and the author wasn’t afraid to include complex (but brief, so don’t worry if you don’t know much about it) explanations of biological research.

The other was the realistic mention of Asperger’s syndrome. I loved the fact that Asperger’s didn’t dominate the book, but added depth and insight into the behaviour of one character.

The only reason this book didn’t get a higher rating is because I correctly guessed the main mystery very early on. I spotted some ambiguous wording and after that my eyes were peeled for similar hints. These were repeated subtlety, but once noticed these reinforced my idea. It was cleverly done, but I wish I hadn’t been so eagle-eyed!

Recommended to anyone looking for a wonderfully creepy read, with some original ideas on medical research and religion.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…(an) exciting book on  a difficult subject, with many twists and turns along the way. A Common Reader

The exploration of what happens when Faith and Religion mix with a man who’s more logical than emotional is a disturbing read. Gav Reads

 …a fascinating, if somewhat unrealistic, look at what could happen as a result of a gifted/disabled child being misunderstood and mistreated. At Home with Books

14 replies on “The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs”

I was a bit nervous to see what you thought of this book (I couldn’t imagine everyone loving it like I did!) but I’m so relieved and happy that you enjoyed it as much as you did, Jackie!

It’s interesting to hear you compare it to The Thirteenth Tale; it’s been a while since I read that but I would never have thought to liken them. I think I must take books fairly literally when it comes to pairing them up, but now that you’ve mentioned it I can see them going well together – and I agree, for as much as I enjoyed Setterfield’s novel, this is the better book!

Shannon, Thank you for recommending it to me! I can see why some people might dislike this book, but there is so much going on that there must be something for everyone in there! It would make a great bookclub choice (apart from the length?) as some of the themes/ideas would benefit from discussion.

Jdith, I don’t remember much about the plot of The Thirteenth Tale, but I remember the atmosphere and the twist in the end. I think I’ll remember much more about this one!

I picked up a copy of this in a charity shop – glad to hear it’s a good read, and better than the 13th tale which I found a bit overdone. As we share a love of novels with science bits, I’ll look forward to it.

Teresa, I’d not heard of it before, but it is the sort of book that should be a best seller. I hope I can bring it to the attention of a few more people. 🙂

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