Wednesday 4 February 2009

The Vampire of Ropraz

Bitter Lemon Press have introduced British readers to some excellent authors from overseas – for instance, I’d never heard of the late Friedrich Glauser until they printed his highly enjoyable books about Sergeant Studer, and there have been many other examples. So I fell on The Vampire of Ropraz by Jacques Chessex with great enthusiasm. I did, however, have mixed feelings about the book.

Actually, it’s closer to a novella than a novel – 106 pages of large type, with lots of white space – but that in itself is not a criticism. I often feel daunted by the length of doorstop-sized volumes, given that reading time is all too short. It’s a gruesome tale, apparently based on a true story. There are graphically described mutilations of corpses, starting with an attack on the body of young Rosa Gillieron in a remote Swiss village. Further violations follow, together with brutal attacks on animals. Suspicion shifts around, but finally settles on one young man, who is duly tried. But the story does not finish there.

To say more would be unfair, but this makes it rather difficult to discuss aspects of the story-line that I found unsatisfactory. It’s more a ‘literary’ piece of work than a conventional crime story, but that, of course, is not the problem. Suffice to say that, although Chessex is evidently a talented writer (the translation, by the way, is courtesy of W.Donald Wilson), and the remote community is very well evoked, the surprise ending seems rather out of place and tacked-on. Interesting, but a ‘miss’ for me, rather than a ‘hit’.


Lesley Cookman said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog - reading yours has introduced me to loads of others - I'm a very lazy blogger... You didn't come to last year's CWA conference did you? So we haven't met - or have we and my memory's even worse than I thought?

Peter Rozovsky said...

I found the book more a contemporary revisiting of a Victorian horror story than a crime novel. Like you I'll try to avoid spoilers, but I got the feeling Chessex was upping the ante for contemporary readers, trying to evoke the revulsion Victorian "monsters" may have elicited.

Interesting Glauser should come up here. He was Swiss, like Chessex, and one might argue that they shared an attitude of compassion toward their perpetrators. And I love Glauser's work.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Lesley, no, I don't think we have met, but with any luck I'll be at the Lincoln conference this year.
Peter, your compassion point is well made. I probably approached Chessex's book with the wrong expectations. Glauser is much more my cup of tea, but I certainly won't write Chessex off the future reading list.

Anonymous said...

I'm pleased to read your comments, Martin, because I found the novella (or perhaps even novelette, it was very short) most unsatisfactory, despite the rave reviews I'd read. I don't think it works as either a genre or literary piece, but to be fair, there may have been elements lost in the translation, even if it was meticulous.

seana graham said...

I share many of your feelings about this book, Martin, although I didn't mind what I thought of as the somewhat ironic ending. In fact, the whole book seems quite ironic to me, but I still find the graphic depictions of various horrific things hard to sync up with that.

From reading here, it's not Chessex that I'm inclined to pursue further, but Glauser.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments - a consensus seems to be emerging!

Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder what readers whose tastes run more to horror would think of the book.
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, it would be interesting to hear. Years ago, I read quite a bit of horror, but I tended to prefer it in short stories rather than novels.