The stripping of a sick mind
The main character in Stefan Brijs’ earlier novel Arend (2000) is a boy, fat, depressed and lonely, rejected by his peers. He is fascinated by everything that flies, eager to soar up out of his own sad existence; despairingly, he realises that he can only do so as an angel after dying. Brijs’s latest novel, De engelenmaker (‘Angelmaker), is based on similarly tragic circumstances; this time the victim is an autistic, monomaniac eccentric.
Rejected by his parents for being ugly – he has a hare lip – Victor Hoppe grew up in a children’s home and a boarding school. He is both insensitive and paralytically shy, and, as a result, is accepted by nobody, and leads a lonely existence. He is however possessed of an exceptional memory and unwavering determination. After training as a doctor, he continues to work at the university where he succeeds in cloning mice. He works in isolation and refuses to publish the required scientific information on his working procedures to back his claims. Meanwhile he is secretly trying to clone himself. He succeeds in producing weak, ugly triplets that he treats as objects of scientific study rather than as children deserving paternal affection.
Expelled from university by his colleagues, he retreats to the triangle where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands converge to take up his former doctor’s practice. The geographical location is important symbolically for the concept of the novel. The triplets age quickly and do not live long. Hoppe regards this as an error in his procedure. In the dramatic ending Hoppe initiates a new experiment in order to prove his point, while simultaneously increasing the guarantee of his own existence.
By then he himself is no longer a witness. In his autism and his rigid way of thinking, his oversimplification of the contrast between good and evil, Hoppe charges inexorably towards open identification with Christ on the cross. This austere, impassive naturalist novel has a sophisticated and ingenious plot that will repeatedly astonish the reader. Stefan Brijs is a truly first-class author.