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El vampiro de Ropraz by JACQUES CHESSEX

El vampiro de Ropraz (edition 2008)


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1059114,970 (3.3)8
Title:El vampiro de Ropraz
Info:ANAGRAMA (2008), Perfect Paperback, 91 pages
Collections:Your library, Leído

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The Vampire of Ropraz by Jacques Chessex



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It is 1903; a tiny village in the Jura mountains. Dark nights, long winters, pine forests, wolves, and for the human population a lot of solitary brooding. One morning, a horrific crime: the body of a recently-deceased girl found violated in the cemetery. Cheeks bitten off, entrails removed, breasts cut away; the vulva has been severed and eaten, with bits of cartilage and pubic hair found spat-out in a nearby bush. The perpetrator is quickly dubbed ‘the vampire of Ropraz’, and the horror spreads as two similar crimes follow in nearby villages over the coming weeks.

The public demands a culprit. And one is found – a suitably damaged stableboy, caught abusing farm animals, who has appropriately reddened, vampirical eyes and even oversized canines. There are problems, of course – there is no physical evidence that he is responsible, and he clearly lacks the facility with a knife that would have been necessary to carve up the dead bodies as they were found. But perhaps, for the purposes of community justice, these objections are not so very important after all.

This brief novella has elements of reportage, elements of horror, elements of crime procedural – but they're all in the service of painting a mood-picture of a particular type of remote community as it was just before the modern age. It is as unromantic and gloomy and sensuous a picture of the Swiss mountains as you're likely to find.

Ici on n'a pas de grands commerces, d'usines, de manufactures, on n'a qu'on gagne de la terre, autant dire rien. Ce n'est pas une vie. On est même si pauvres qu'on vend nos vaches pour la viande aux bouchers des grandes villes, on se contente du cochon et on mange tellement sous toutes ses formes, fumé, écouenné, haché, salé, qu'on finit par lui ressembler, figure rose, hure rougie, loin du monde, par combes noires et forêts.

Dans ces campagnes perdues une jeune fille est une étoile qui aimante les folies. Inceste et rumination, dans l'ombre célibataire, de la part charnelle à jamais convoitée et interdite.

[Here there are no large shops, no factories, no manufacturing – nothing but what you get from the earth, which is to say nothing. This is no life. You're so poor that you sell your cows for meat to the butchers in the city, and you make do with pigs, which you eat so much in all its forms – smoked, crackled, minced, salted – that you end up looking like one, pink face, ruddy head, far from civilisation, by forests and dark hollows.

In these hidden lands, a young girl is a lodestar for madness. Incest and, in the celibate darkness, rumination on that carnal element forever coveted and forbidden.]

Well as you can see, the writing here is fabulous. The book was released originally as part of Grasset's Ceci n'est pas un fait divers series (‘this is not a news story’), and it is in part a retelling of actual events in the village where Chessex lived until his death in 2009; he claimed to have been told the details by a cousin of that first mutilated victim. There are moments here where the prose style reminded me a little of García Márquez's News of a Kidnapping, except that this book is to be found in the fiction section and some parts, especially towards the end, must be the result of creative license. However, despite some research that showed me the case was more or less real, I could not work out exactly where the join was.

La misère sexuelle, comme on la nommera plus tard, s'ajoute aux rôderies de la peur et de l'imagination du mal. Solitaire, on surveille la nuit, ébats d'amour de quelques nantis et de leur râlante complice, frôlements du diable, culpabilité vrillé dans quatre siècles de calvinisme imposé.

[Sexual deprivation – as it would later be known – is added to the prowlings of fear and sickly imagination. Alone, you look out at the night, the frolics of love among a few of the well-off and their moaning relations, the devil's caresses, a guilt wound tight through four centuries of enforced Calvinism.]

Le Vampire de Ropraz is also remarkable for the attitude it takes towards the ‘vampire’ himself. Though the full horror of his actions is made all too clear, he is also – through a tremendous exertion of authorial sympathy – somehow accepted. Chessex at one point addresses him directly – mon double, mon frère ! – and seems to suggest that crimes like these are within him, Chessex, too – indeed that they are within all of us, waiting, perhaps, for the right conjunction of desperation, remoteness and mental perturbation to bring them out. Not a traditional horror story, but plenty to make you shiver here all the same. ( )
1 vote Widsith | Feb 18, 2016 |
  rouzejp | Sep 2, 2015 |
A novella more than a novel, this gritty story of a body snatcher of ravishes corpses of young women in 1900s Switzerland is a bracing dip into paranoia, fear, despicable lust and degradation humans can get up to, especially of they live in a benighted fundamentalist land. Jacques Chessex was a Swiss writer, so this is well worth checking out if you're in the mood for a darker vision tinged with the otherness that a writer from another culture can bring. ( )
  Bill_Peschel | Oct 16, 2010 |
It’s 1903, and a suspected vampire is on the loose in Ropraz, a small, forested town in Switzerland, described as a "land of wolves and neglect," oppressed by "four centuries of imposed ‘Calvinism.’” Even without vampires, Ropraz is a town steeped in suspicion and superstition:

"Endlessly construing the threat from deep within and from without, from the forest, from the cracking of the roof, from the wailing of the wind, from the beyond, from above, from beneath, from below: the threat from elsewhere. You bar yourself inside you skull, your sleep, your heart, your senses; you bolt yourself inside your farmhouse, gun at the ready, with a haunted, hungry soul."

The terror begins in Jacques Chessex’s atmospheric novella when the recently buried corpse of 20-year-old Rosa Gilliéron, daughter of the town’s Justice of the Peace, is found unearthed and violently desecrated. The local paper quickly labels the perpetrator the “Vampire of Ropraz,” and the finger-pointing starts. Loaded with sexual tension and provincial overreaction, The Vampire of Ropraz is a dark portrait of a remote place trapped in its own suspicions and tortured by its oppressive religious beliefs: "There is, above all, welling up from generations of tortured brooding, the assurance of punishment from on high suspended over our lives."

Nine-tenths of The Vampire of Ropraz is a concise and masterful rendering of a dark place victimized by an even darker act. A bizarre, ironic twist at the very end of the story, however, throws a farcical light over the book, serving to undo much of the powerful effect achieved earlier. It's an unfortunate ending to a grimly entertaining tale.

This review also appears on my blog Literary License. ( )
  gwendolyndawson | Nov 7, 2009 |
This is a bizarre, disturbing little book. At just over a hundred pages, it manages to be full of intense, graphic images. The author takes the true story of a crime committed in rural Switzerland in 1903. The corpse of a young woman is found violated, then those of two more women, before a mentally ill, disfigured farm boy is found in an act of bestiality and accused of the crimes. This book... ugh. I really did not like it. The prose is spare and cold, except for the descriptions of the various crimes, which are grisly and overly detailed. This book also contains one of the most stomach turning scenes of child abuse that I have ever read. The very last page or so was intriguing, and there were moments when I felt that the author was really going to make a point about the nature of poverty, abuse, and violence, but he never really got there. This is a gruesome book with no deeper meaning. What's more, there are no real characters; even the perpetrator of the crimes is barely developed as an individual. If you are interested in terrifying scenes of necrophilia, mutilation, rape, bestiality, and child abuse with no further story, then you might enjoy this book. Otherwise, steer clear from it. I wish I had. ( )
2 vote allthesedarnbooks | Aug 29, 2009 |
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1903, Ropraz, a small village in the Jura Mountains. The virginal daughter of a local judge dies of meningitis. On a howling December day a lone walker discovers her tomb recently opened, her body violated, left hand cut off, and heart torn out. Chessex takes this true story and weaves it into a lyrical tale fo fear and cruelty.… (more)

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