Books

Orpheus Builds a Girl review: Grisly, spine-chilling horror based on a true story

Heather Parry's debut novel, Orpheus Builds a Girl, is inspired by the real-life story of Carl Tanzler, whose creepy obsession with a young woman drove him to commit monstrous crimes

Angel tombstone

A man with a dangerous obsession, and a young woman robbed from her grave. Image: Julia Kadel on Unsplash

A fresh and exciting addition to the horror genre is Heather Parry’s debut novel, Orpheus Builds a Girl.

The book is inspired by the grisly true story of Carl Tanzler (which is extraordinary in its own right), and it tells of German doctor Wilhelm von Tore, who becomes romantically obsessed with a young Cuban woman Luci, who he is treating for tuberculosis. He is creepy and manipulative from the start, and Parry imbues his narrative with a skin-crawling delusional quality. When Luci dies, von Tore refuses to accept that fact, taking matters into his own hands in a grotesque manner. 

Interspersed with von Tore’s narration is that of Luci’s sister Gabriela, determined to challenge his version of events and hold him to account. It’s a vital narrative intervention, the voice of outraged reason compared to von Tore’s madness, and it helps to drive the story forwards to an impressive climax. 

Orpheus Builds a Girl book cover

Orpheus Builds a Girl is superbly creepy from the start, Parry expertly lacing unsettling details through her narratives. It’s a modern take on classic Gothic fiction, and while it certainly owes a debt to the likes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it breaks new ground of its own and will chill readers to the bone. Disturbing and compelling in equal measure, it’s highly recommended.  

Orpheus Builds a Girl by Heather Parry is out now (Gallic Books, £16.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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