Orpheus Builds A Girl

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Gabi's chapter's are filled with something else unsettling, herself being unsettled and anxious throughout her life; always thinking of keeping her family together and ooking out for her younger more robust and adventurous sisters. The reader is pulled into the lives of her Cuban family, living through joys and heartbreak but always constantly aware of what Luci was doing. Gabi's recollection revolves around her sister to counteract the doctor's views; perhaps that is the point of her recalling memories, to actively disagree with what the doctor has put forward? Or maybe that is truly how Gabi saw her youth? Either way the familial chapters paints Luci in a different light than that of von Tore. Based on a true story, Orpheus Builds a Girl is a novel of sisterly love, sinister obsession, and the battle for control of the story. A dark, chilling debut novel from award-winning writer Heather Parry. Luci is rebellious and wild and inquisitive; she is everything her sister is not, where as Gabi tries desperately to keep her family together, to appease her mother's sallow moods and depression, to keep her sister safe from the world. Gabi loses herself in trying to keep the peace and be a constant people pleaser.

She won the 2016 Bridge Award for an Emerging Writer, Cove Park's 2017 Emerging Writer residency, the Laxfield Literary Launch Prize in 2021 and was a Hawthornden Fellow in 2021. Parry is from Yorkshire, and her work is a modern take on classic gothic fiction, and though the idea, Frankenstein-esque, is of course not new, her approach is from a different angle. There are (welcomed) moments of hideous unpleasantness, though in a lenghty finale Parry leaves her reader with plenty to contemplate; firstly that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and a debate with more substance, what was the law, what is the law, and what should be the law..ORPHEUS BUILDS A GIRL is not my usual read I admit, but I enjoy listening to the author during the podcast Teenage Scream, and perhaps this has swayed me to read outside my usual genres. That being said this dual point of viewed novel was delicious to read. Written as the memoirs of a German doctor in exile scarily obsessed with one of his teenage patients even after her death, and based on a gruesome true story, this is a perfect read for spooky season. This story is something else. It’s macabre. It’s sinister. It’s so, so dark. But it’s also beautiful. It’s heartbreaking. Its unbearable. Its a story I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Hell, this is fun to read as doctor Wilhelm channels Victor Frankenstein in his 'over-reaching' medical theory that he can re-animate a corpse - and tries it on the dead body of a young woman with whom he is obsessed. Cue lots of grisly descriptions of fleshly insect infestations, peeling skin, odours, blood and other gore - so far so Psycho-lite, I thought. gross, creepy, vaguely romantic, and loosely inspired by true events Orpheus Builds a Girl tells of the story of Wilhelm as he tries to revive his “one true love” Luci while simultaneously giving us the perspective of Luci’s older sister Gabriela.Though only together for a few months in her first life, their love is written in the stars. Using scientific research compiled over decades, Wilhelm ensures that, for him and his beloved, death is only the beginning. ORPHEUS is written in part as a scientific biopic from the personal statement of Wilhelm von Tore; the doctor using this manuscript as a justification and confession for his actions in relation to his "life's work and purpose" in relation to Luci. The alternate chapters are written more as a recollection by Gabi, Luci's older sister, about her life and the intrusion/influence of von Tore. Wilhem von Tore doesn’t have much time left. As he reflects on his life his main memory is his beloved Luci, love of his life and the woman he vowed to stay with forever. And stay with her he did, despite her having died of tuberculosis only a few months after their first meeting. Despite Luci being buried by her grieving family shortly after her death. Small obstacles, but nothing that would get in the way of Wilhem’s quest.

She is the author of two books - a novel, Orpheus Builds a Girl, and a short story collection, This Is My Body, Given For You. But this book is not content with putting us in the mind of a deranged lunatic - it feels the need to intercut his 1st person narrative with that of the dead girl's sister, supposedly telling the other side of the story. The problem with this is that it's abundantly clear to us pretty much from the start that Wilhelm is crazy: after all, as a child he has a weirdly co-dependent relationship with his grandmother and cuddles up to her dead body for days till they're found together. Add to that his discreet but obvious allusions to his Nazi past: the 'youth organisation' he joins in 1930s German (Hitler Youth or similar), the obscure medical 'experiments' he participates in during the war even if he, self-righteously, tells us he was never interested in work on twins (as was, notoriously, Josef Mengele), his recall of the firebombing of Dresden, and his later escape from German via South America and, eventually, to Florida.Thus is simply stunning. I can’t remember a story that’s gripped me so tight that I’ve spent a whole day reading it. Mesmerising, gruesome and strangely intoxicating. I’ve read many horror books so it didn’t phase me but it’s not for the squeamish.

 

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