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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Vampire of Ropraz

Jacques Chessex

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To purchase The Vampire of Ropraz

Title: The Vampire of Ropraz
Author: Jacques Chessex
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 106 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Vampire of Ropraz - US
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Le Vampire de Ropraz - France
Der Vampir von Ropraz - Deutschland
Il vampiro di Ropraz - Italia
El vampiro de Ropraz - España
  • French title: Le Vampire de Ropraz
  • Translated by W.Donald Wilson

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Our Assessment:

B+ : revealing provincial tale (with an amusing final twist)

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 15/10/2008 Jürg Altwegg
L'Humanité . 29/3/2007 Jean-Claude Lebrun
The Independent A+ 27/10/2008 Jane Jakeman
NZZ . 7/10/2008 Peter Urban-Halle

  From the Reviews:
  • "Es ist eine schauerliche Erzählung. Sie liest sich in ihrer Kürze wie ein Konzentrat seiner Romane und seiner Obsessionen." - Jürg Altwegg, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Ce roman bref, au style tendu et incisif, parfois presque elliptique, malgré son sujet nauséeux, délivre une sensation de beauté forte. L’intime et le social s’y trouvent mêlés de manière indissoluble." - Jean-Claude Lebrun, L'Humanité

  • "This is a superb novella by a winner of the Prix Goncourt, written in a spare prose that renders it a thousand times more effective. Read it with genuine horror." - Jane Jakeman, The Independent

  • "Die geschändeten Leichen bleiben stumm. Umso beredter die Leute. In Chessex' suggestiver und zugleich fatalistischer Erzählung sind sie empörte Heuchler und perverse Hinterwäldler (so beschreibt er sie von Anfang an), ihre Wut macht Favez mit einem Mal zum Opfer und sie zu Tätern. Sie sind die Ursache des Übels, seine Untaten sind durch sie bewirkt, ja mehr noch: schlummern in ihnen selbst. Das wirkt in seiner Eindeutigkeit ein wenig wohlfeil und auf seine Art sogar überheblich, weil dem «Vampir» (der eine schreckliche Kindheit erdulden musste, wie wir nebenbei erfahren) der eigene Wille und damit die Verantwortung abgesprochen werden." - Peter Urban-Halle, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

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 Vampire of Ropraz is based on a horrible real-life depraved crime-spree from the beginning of the 20th century in provincial Switzerland, in which someone dug up the corpses of some young women and defiled them.
       Ropraz is in the middle of nowhere, even in small Switzerland:

A land of wolves and neglect in the early twentieth century, poorly served by public transport, two hours from Lausanne, perched on a high hillside above the road to Berne, bordered by dense forests of fir.
       The Vampire of Ropraz is the slimmest of novellas, and Chessex is direct and quick, often hammering home his images in only a few staccato sentences:
They hang themselves a lot in the farms of the Haut-Jorat. In the barn. From the ridge-beam.
       The crimes are horrific, the bodies messily mutilated, with traces of sperm and saliva on them, the heart removed, and: "The breasts have been cut off, eaten, chewed and spat into the sliced-open belly." The newspapers dub the unknown perpetrator 'the Vampire of Ramuz', and the already always suspicious locals are driven into even greater frenzies of paranoia. But the vampire only goes after corpses, and by the third victim the pattern is even more confounding:
     You would think that the Vampire of Ropraz keeps to one type of woman, always the same, and that he selects his sacrificial victim well in advance. Where does he get his information ?
       Chessex nicely captures the mutual suspicions that arise, as the locals are desperate to lay blame somewhere. Eventually they also succeed, as a twenty-one year old hand named Charles-Augustin Favez is found "having his way with a hobbled heifer" (yes, a cow -- as Chessex makes clear, hereabouts: "Sexual privation, as it will come to be called, is added to skulking fear and evil fancies", and is obviously a major factor in the issues that so many of the locals have). Typically, also, Favez is no innocent; he had a terrible childhood and is something of a brute, but seems extremely unlikely to have been capable of these particular crimes -- but he does himself no favours when, briefly free again, he acts out in a way that certainly suggests he is as monstrous as the locals need to believe him to be.
       Chessex's account is often barely more than sketchy, adding to the sense of how much is unknown. There are no tidy answers here; everyone is complicit. In a sense this is a story beyond guilt or innocence, with even Favez's trial compressed into a listing of the "dates and number of sittings" of the court over the four days it lasted, with no mention or discussion of the evidence or testimony. To Chessex those details, of how they decide Favez's guilt, are almost irrelevant, window-dressing that allows the locals to imagine they are done with the story -- though Chessex also doesn't show much outrage at Favez being made a scapegoat. Indeed, Chessex's indictment is comprehensive, extending to the entire small-town community: beyond, perhaps, the dead young women, there are no innocents here, there is only an environment of such deep rot that everything must suffer for it. The horrific crimes seem entirely appropriate, the perfect manifestation of all that is wrong here.
       With echoes of Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz (see The Young Man from Savoy) but a far grimmer, harsher take on this small, Swiss world, The Vampire of Ropraz is an unsettling little curiosity -- so also in its final turn, describing Favez's fate, both in the shorter term and in its lasting final one. It almost seems too much to foist on the story, but Chessex makes it work quite well (and it's distinctly possible that it's that curious final twist that made for the book's success among the French).
       Graphic, grim, and disturbing, The Vampire of Ropraz is a worthwhile little oddity.

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The Vampire of Ropraz: Reviews: Other books by Jacques Chessex review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Jacques Chessex was born in 1934 and died in 2009.

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