18 October 2009

Jacques Chessex, The Vampire of Ropraz, 2007

Chessex was the only non-French author to have received the Prix Goncourt by 1973 (he won another, for poetry, in 2004), and despite a large body of work there’s still little by him that’s available in English. This is a fictionalised account of a ghoulish but unsolved true mystery regarding necrophilia and the desecration of young women’s graves in Switzerland’s Jura mountains at the turn of the twentieth century. It starts out lucidly and almost frighteningly atmospheric, with the mountainous landscape harbouring isolated villages rife with superstition and Calvinist doctrine, and when a possible suspect is found the rule of law comes a poor second to the prejudices of the local people and the courts. Chessex’s writing grabs the reader from page one: it’s unflinchingly spare and direct and gets straight to the point, but although much of this story is based on real events he perhaps added a little too much gratuitous detail, even though this just adds to the sense of how much remains unknown. The twist at the end seems almost too extraordinary to be true and would be incredible if it were, but even so it’s still a very good allegory for buried secrets. A brief but memorable novella.  PY


No comments: