Orpheus Builds A Girl
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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.. 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.
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. We follow the story of Wilhelm Von Tore and Luci told through the eyes of Gabriela (Luci's Sister) and I love that we get the two different perspectives to the story. This is particularly relevant in Orpheus Builds a Girl and it really makes you question what the reality of the situation was and the motives behind the different characters actions. It also explores what it means to love someone.Then there is Gabriela, sister to Luciana. She recalls a feisty and carefree young woman, taken too soon but never forgotten. These two characters are worlds apart but united in their love for the same person. But love can have different forms; familial, habitual, obsessional. Set in the 1970s in Key West, Floida, a German doctor who had worked for the Nazis in his youth, Wilhelm von Tore, becomes infatuated with a young Cuban woman, Luci, who he is treating for tuberculosis. When she dies, von Tore refuses to accept it, and takes matters into his own hands. A fresh and exciting addition to the horror genre is Heather Parry’s debut novel, Orpheus Builds a Girl.
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. 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.
There is something quite off-putting having another's life told through two other's eyes. Although von Tore views Luci through his own twisted version of rose tinted glasses, it is also worth considering Gabi's version of her sister to be skewed too, and yet we as the reader are never allowed entreaty into Luci's own perception of events.
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. I loved the way this novel explored fascism's links to the control of the female body, and the social complicity that allows professional white men to wield power in the most horrific ways. It has one of the best unreliable narrators I've read and a counter-narrator in the shape of the victim's sister that humanises the woman the protagonist is determined to objectify.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. 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.