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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Finno-Ugrian Vampire

Szécsi Noémi

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Title: The Finno-Ugrian Vampire
Author: Szécsi Noémi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 232 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: The Finno-Ugrian Vampire - US
The Finno-Ugrian Vampire - UK
The Finno-Ugrian Vampire - Canada
  • Hungarian title: Finnugor vámpír
  • Translated by Peter Sherwood

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing Hungarian tale, from a literary-vampiric angle

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 12/10/2012 Tibor Fischer
TLS . 22/3/2013 Zsuzsanna Varga

  From the Reviews:
  • "It is, among other things, a clever satire on the whole notion of Hungarian-ness, nationalism and the stereotypes of Eastern Europe, as Jerne, a hereditary vampire, is encouraged by her grandmother to join the family business. (...) The Finno-Ugrian Vampire is played for laughs (Jerne works in a vegetarian restaurant), many of them erudite. Even in translation it's clear that there are many jokes and allusions that a non-Magyar will miss." - Tibor Fischer, The Guardian

  • "The background to this amusing postmodernist farce is Hungarian intellectual life, past and present." - Zsuzsanna Varga, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Finno-Ugrian Vampire is narrated by Jerne Voltampere, who has vampirism in her blood but doesn't embrace it with quite the same ardor as the ancient grandmother she lives with. Jerne also has some literary aspirations; unfortunately, too, she has some talent -- inconvenient when one really wants to keep a low profile because of that complicated family background and their feeding habits. She claims: "I don't want to become a great writer. Just a little story-writer"; eventually, what she'll come to realize is that these are her two destinies, and that:

Vampirism, just like literature, is not something to be denied.
       The Finno-Ugrian Vampire is a two-part novel, as Jerne makes the transition from would-be vampire to full-blooded (albeit still rather reluctant) one. Grandma starts off as active as ever, but is getting a bit long in the tooth; when those fingers start falling off, it's not a good sign ..... Still, she's amassed several fortunes, and keeps pushing Jerne to follow in her bloody (and meat-grinding) footsteps. Jerne goes along with some of it -- those vacations in Siberia, filling up on reindeer blood, are nice -- but otherwise proves a bit more leery and independent-minded. Of course, grandma is unruffled by this -- just as she is even when an angel comes to roost for a while.
       Jerne understands her destiny, but for the time being is happy enough living a more normal life. Interested in writing, she takes a job with a small publisher -- where, inconveniently, she turns out not to be the only one who is vampirically inclined. Long term, that position doesn't quite work out, and her next job is at a vegetarian restaurant -- perhaps also not the ideal fit.
       It's her writing that also gets her in trouble. She's too good at it , so grandma doesn't want to see her pursue it -- but, of course, Jerne can't leave well enough alone. But this novel is only partially about Jerne finding herself as vampire and writer; it's also an entertaining, sly commentary on Hungary, both specifically around 2000 and more generally. Szécsi weaves this in throughout the narrative, but it's quite subtly done -- a secondary track to the novel that is, no doubt, enjoyed more by those in the know, but doesn't really distract those less familiar with Hungarian history, culture, and idiosyncrasies.
       Among the amusing ideas presented is how Jerne decides that a good way to find someone to latch onto is to take language lessons -- and she chooses to learn Hungarian. Though educated in England, her Hungarian is, of course, perfectly fine, and she has to painstakingly make mistakes in her speech and writing to convince the teacher that there's actually anything for her to learn. This odd language -- paired up with Finnish in the Finno-Ugric branch, all on its own -- is, of course, one of the things Hungarians particularly pride themselves in, and Jerne mines that quite well.
       As far as her literary pursuits go, Jerne claims not to allow herself to read literary periodicals -- maintaining:
I'm scared that they might influence me. I don't want to be influenced by contemporary Hungarian literature.
       In fact, she does admit to looking them over -- but she tries to just: "skim them quickly, so that they would have no influence on my art".
       The novel meanders along agreeably enough. Her grandmother is the most interesting character in a book in which the central character doesn't interact with all too many people, but there are a few others, from Wildean Uncle Oscar to a childhood friend who fronts the band Coitus Interruptus and her bosses at the publishing firm. Szécsi's casual presentation of the completely absurd -- in the form of Jerne treating most everything as entirely natural, even when it's not -- works well given the odd premises of the book, and she uses both Jerne's vampire-nature and her literary one well, without trying to do or make too much of either.
       Jerne's writings -- aside from this account -- feature a rabbit named Initiative, and seem to be kids' tales that are entirely inappropriate for kids. Her mundane day-jobs and unpublishable -- both for being too good, and inappropriate -- texts are a reflection of her identity, taking some initiative, but also pursuing her interests (and needs) rather more quietly than, for example, her grandmother. So, too, The Finno-Ugrian Vampire is, despite its sensational premise, a quite understated novel.
       All in all: an odd, enjoyable literary-vampiric romp.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 October 2012

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The Finno-Ugrian Vampire: Reviews: Szécsi Noémi: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Hungarian author Szécsi Noémi was born in 1976.

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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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