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  • Reviews for The Vampire of Ropraz by Jacques Chessex
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Reviews for The Vampire of Ropraz by Jacques Chessex
'I get a special kick out of that authorial magic that updates an old genre while remaining chillingly true to its time-honored form. In Jacques Chessex's The Vampire of Ropraz, nominally a crime novel, since it is published by Bitter Lemon Press, the genre is horror. Chessex's (and translator W. Donald Wilson's) little feat of alchemy is to be just a bit more explicit - all right, sometimes more than a bit - about hidden horrors and forbidden appetites than, say, Bram Stoker, while preserving the same sense of foreboding and isolation:
"Ropraz in the Haut-Jorat, canton of Vaud, Switzerland, 1903. A land of wolves and neglect in the early twentieth century. ... Dwellings often scattered over wastelands hemmed in by dark trees, cramped villages with squat houses. Ideas have no currency, tradition is a dead weight, and modern hygiene is unknown. ... You have to take care when employing a vagabond for the harvest, or to dig potatoes. He is the outsider, the snoop, the thief. ... In the remote countryside a young girl is a lodestar for lunacy ... Sexual privation, as it will come to be called, is added to skulking fear and evil fancies. ... But I was forgetting the astounding beauty of the place. ... "
During the harsh winter of 1903, three women in the Swiss village of Ropraz are dug up from their graves, sexually assaulted, and horribly mutilated, and the search for suspects, narrated in spare prose, turns up fresh secrets and perversions. A suspect is arrested, released, then jailed again. In prison he receives visits from a mysterious woman in white, who bribes the suspect's jailers and slips in for assignations far more explicit that Victorian horror writing would have allowed. The man may or may not be the dreaded Vampire of Ropraz, but the visits trigger new violence on his part. His ultimate fate, after he escapes, joins the French Foreign Legion, and dies amid the mud and rain of trench warfare, is a grimly humorous comment on the notion of buried secrets.' - Detectivesbeyondborders
'Switzerland has the most placid of images. Yet I once lived in a village not 20 miles from Geneva, where a farmer's daughter who had her skull fractured in an accident was deemed a witch by the old women when she returned from hospital with her head shaved. Such superstitions form the background to Jacques Chessex's story of the creature who haunted a similar Jura village in 1903. The inhabitants, snowed in for months, afflicted by centuries of Calvinist guilt, frequently hang themselves. Potions are rubbed on warts by moonlight, dolls stuck with pins. In such an atmosphere, "a young girl is a lodestar for lunacy".
The lunacy is unleashed when a young woman is buried in the frozen soil and soon afterwards is discovered with fearful mutilations, including the severing of a hand and both breasts. Parts of her flesh have been chewed and regurgitated. Her intestines are hanging out of the coffin. The perpetrator is immediately dubbed "the Vampire of Ropraz". Rumours fly and fear overwhelms the district. Every stranger, every eccentric, is suspected. The horror grows when another ravaged body is found. More atrocities follow, always committed on the corpses of beautiful young women, as if the vampire is watching graveyards.
The horror is heightened by the depths of the Swiss winter: blood-spattered snow, shuttered houses, an atmosphere where the religious intensity of the villagers and their belief in the powers of darkness can flourish. Beyond the village, newspapers fan the flames of rumour and the authorities are driven into action, with every wretched outcast coming under suspicion. Finally, a crippled stable-boy is accused and briefly imprisoned. Released, he is at last caught in the act.
Defended against a lynch mob, he's brought to trial. His case is studied by a doctor who uncovers the story of how a "vampire" is created: a child who had to snatch food from dogs, who was constantly abused and now takes his revenge, a "monster" as product and symptom of human cruelty. 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.' - The Independent
'You don't normally associate Count Dracula with Switzerland. This is the land of peace and love, as Harry Lime reminded us in The Third Man. Goncourt Prize-winner Jacques Chessex has taken a real-life crime in rural Switzerland as a starting point for his latest novel-a crime that reverberated around the world. In 1903 the graves of three young women were unearthed within months of each other and their bodies violated. The newspapers dubbed the perpetrator 'the vampire of Ropraz.'
The Vampire of Ropraz is a gothic horror story written in a modern vernacular. The landscape is one of dark forests, cramped villages and squat houses but the narrative is a s crisp as the Swiss mountain air. It is this disjunction between elegant form and Grand Guignol content that gives the novel its potency. In Ropraz, a small village in the Jura Mountains, the first corpse is found with her left hand severed, her heart torn out, her genitals mutilated, and her breast cut off, eaten and chewed and spat into her sliced-open belly. Fear stalks the local community. Who could have done such an evil deed?
A witch-hunt gets underway to find the culprit. Suspicion falls on everyone from the itinerant butcher to a passing medical student to a school master once accused of molestation. Dormant superstitions and repressed prejudices resurface as local villagers turn to crucifixes and garlic to ward off Dracula.
A few months later a group of children are playing football in a field with a strange ball. It turns out to be ahead that has lost its scalp. The grim ritual has been re-enacted. Soon afterwards, another open grave is discovered belonging to a 23-year-old woman who died of TB. Her corpse has also been eviscerated. The public wants vengeance. A scapegoat is found in a mentally unsound stable boy who has been indulging in unnatural practices with cows heifers. But is Charles-Augustin Favez the vampire?
Circumstantial evidence would suggest so. He was at school with the first victim, from whom he kept his distance, though his master's report said that 'he watched her continuously and followed her in the street, even when her father was present.'
He is subjected to psychiatric experiments. At first glance the medical examination would seem to corroborate his guilt. His eyes are always red and inflamed and he blinks continuously as if the daylight causes him pain. And he has abnormally long teeth, with incisors larger than is natural. But after fifty-seven days he is freed as there is no proof. On his release, he rapes an old widow and is thrown back in jail and put under psychiatric care for twelve years before he escapes to join the Foreign Legion.
The novel offers a trenchant commentary on the hypocrisy of society. Favez is a victim of professional and personal abuse. Sexually assaulted by his parents as a young boy, he becomes a plaything for the medical community. Glamorised by the newspapers, he is fixated upon by a celebrity vampire stalker-a mysterious woman dressed in white who seeks to pleasure herself with him.
The public cloaks its fears in superstitions rather than face up to the fact that the crime is the work of a human being. And the communal thirst for blood-letting is as ugly in its own way as the original misdemeanour. There is growing clamour for restoration of the death penalty In a symbolic denouement the author shows how the nation at large is culpable. Violence is condoned in war when it becomes part of the collective will.
The novel is so slender-just 106 pages long-that the author is in danger of sucking the very life of his own story. But it is a well-told, if rather bleak, modern parable and give the reader just enough fleshy food for thought.' - Literary Review
'Chessex, winner of the Prix Goncourt and one of Switzerland's leading writers, takes the true story of a mutilated corpse found near a snowbound village in the Jura and weaves it into a truly horrifying tale of superstition, madness and retribution. Using spare, effective prose, Chessex brilliantly renders both the inhospitable winter landscape of the mountains and the harshness of a society that makes monsters of its victims.' - London Review of Books
'A small village in Switzerland early in the 20th century-- "a land of wolves and neglect ". Rosa, the popular 20-year-old daughter of the local magistrate, dies of meningitis and crowds of people from the surrounding villages turn up for her funeral. Two days later, a woodman makes a discovery which will horrify the area. Rosa's grave in the Ropraz churchyard has been opened and her body violated and mutilated. The simple, rural people are shocked by the outrage. Old superstitions resurface, suspicions grow and garlic and crucifixes are again brandished in the hope of keeping the monster at bay. The, two more bodies are found similarly violated. A suspect must be found. Favez, a stable boy who has been abused as a child and suffers from "absences " which him unable to remember certain recent events, is arrested for sexually molesting and mutilating animals. In this climate of fear and suspicion it seems obvious that a man who can mistreat animals must also be the "vampire " responsible for the shocking attacks on the dead. Jacques Chessex, considered one of Switzerland's greatest living authors, has taken a true story and turned into a simple, highly readable Gothic tale of mystery, fear and cruelty. The book is a short story and, at just 106 pages, it can be read in one sitting. Its brevity means there is little characterization, but Chessex uses the story as a chance to reflect on prejudice and fear. And it ends with an intriguing twist.' - Newham Recorder
'The vampire is a fantastical and otherworldly figure, but in this case more frightening because he actually existed, " says Swiss author Jacques Chessex of the ghastly creature at the center of his slim novella, The Vampire of Ropraz. Based on the haunting events of 1903 in the small Swiss village the author calls home, Chessex spins the tale of Charles-Augustin Favez with silky prose in this harrowing account of crime and punishment. Corpses turn up mutilated and defiled, setting the countryside ablaze with suspicion and superstition. Anxiety builds as the investigation burns out one false lead after another, climaxing in the spurious conviction of Favez, a mentally handicapped stable boy. Chessex was regaled with the tale soon after his 1978 relocation to Ropraz. "The story did not require much research because the local inhabitants…told me the story in a fresh and terrifying manner as soon as they discovered I was a writer, " he says. Despite the years that have elapsed since the crime, it took the publication of the book to allay any outstanding unease. "The villagers were still terrified by the vampire when I first moved there but also ashamed of this local story, " he says. "Paradoxically, the shame vanished after publication of the book and was replaced by a certain dark glory triggered by visitors…coming to Ropraz to satisfy their curiosity.' - Kirkus
'If it weren't for Michael Orthofer of Complete Review, I don't think I would've ever picked up this slender book. I don't mind my vampires on TV (True Blood is a pretty decent show), but I tend to avoid them in literature. (No, I haven't read Twilight and probably never will.) But this isn't a vampire book. Sure, it's got the spooky cover and the sadistic crimes, but this novel isn't about anyone sucking anyone's blood. It's about society and fear, and finding a way to explain and cope with things that are beyond normal comprehension.
The novel is set in Ropraz- "a land of wolves and neglect in the early twentieth century, poorly served by public transport "-where a young girl is dug up from her grave and mutilated. Newspapers seize on the sensational story, labeling the criminal who did this as the "Vampire of Ropraz, " and setting off a series of "sightings " and a hell of a lot of fear:
"In the meantime, the Vampire is on the loose. He is reported in Vucherens, Ferlens and Montpreveyres, always appearing at night, evading the watch and the dogs, climbing on each occasion to the upper floor, where the daughter of the house or the maid sleeps.
"Look at the broken pane, that's where he rested the ladder . . . "
"But he didn't harm your daughter. "
"She woke up in time. She was dreaming, poor thing, and suddenly she started to scream. We barely had time to grab an axe and run upstairs. "
But the citizens aren't just paranoid-more corpses are dug up and defiled. And the authorities have to find someone to pin all of these crimes on . . . And along comes Charles-Augustin Favez, suspicious enough, and recently caught "having relations " with a cow.
Chessex's novel is based on a real-life story, which is why his sparse, direct, almost questioning prose style works so well, relating the fragments of what is known in a way that pits doubts about Favez's guilt against the townspeople's need for a criminal to be named.
Favez is released though-at least at first:
"Favez is set free on Thursday the 9th of July. His release from prison provokes outrage. The Vampire of Ropraz is free! In vain the justice authorities defend themselves, citing the psychiatrist's report, the expert witnesses from Basle and Zurich, the complete lack of proof regarding the three graveyard crimes and, above all, the decisive factor in the eyes of justice, the manifest inability of Favez to cut up or dissect any kind of flesh-animal flesh during the tests to which he had been subjected, or human flesh in the worst of cases. A vast, angry murmur sweeps through the countryside, and there are fears for the safety of the wrongly accused, considered a vampire by the public, fears of a lynching or a kidnapping followed by extreme abuse. "
Aside from the mesmerizing way that Chessex lays out this little tale, it's the final, speculative, surprising chapter that makes this novel worth reading. On one hand, where he leaves Favez is a bit over-the-top, but for whatever reason, it all sort of fits with this creepy sketch of a story. Worth checking out, and it will only take you about as long to read this as it would to watch an episode of Buffy.' - Three Percent
'Taking a true story, apparently, Swiss author Jacques Chessex has crafted a disconcerting novella of horrific sexual crime that alternately seduces and appals. Set against a bleak 1903 backdrop of rural belief in black magic, the Jura Mountains village of Ropraz is the scene of a grisly outrage, the grave of a young girl unearthed and the corpse sadistically mutilated and violated. Terror grips the area as two more bodies are found in similar circumstances and a suspect, Favez, is arrested, a disturbed stable boy with bloodshot eyes.
Translated into English by W Donald Wilson, Chessex' stark, wintry prose retains a grim, poetic draw and it's likely most readers will devour this in under 90 minutes. Contrasting society's willingness to cloak the basest human desires and abuses in superstition, yet condone the most monstrous acts in wartime, the narrative ends abruptly and conceitedly in 1915. But the chill lingers.'
- The List
'According to a cover blurb The Vampire of Ropraz by Swiss writer Jacques Chessex is a novel, but no doubt that's European measurement and I have to demur. There's a Hammer Horror feel to the enterprise, with many familiar elements in place. The bodies of deceased young women dug up and desecrated. Villagers and townsfolk huddling by their fires while the monster prowls the night. The mob baying for blood and the authorities at a loss. The cry of vampire on every tongue. A young man with mental health problems accused of the crimes, and the psychiatrist who begs to differ. Hints of Carmilla in the mysterious, beautiful woman who visits the culprit in gaol, with salacious ends in mind. It only wants for Lee and Cushing to put in an appearance. Vampire is supposed to be based on actual events that took place in 1903 in Ropraz, a small village in the Jura Mountains, but a cursory search on Google with key words 'vampire' and 'Ropraz' only throws up Chessex's book. Regardless, this grim account has the feel of authenticity about it, with gory scenes described in a matter of fact way that makes them seem even more horrific. Chessex uses the clichés and tropes of horror fiction as a launch pad for his own concerns. He deftly inserts his thoughts and impressions about mob psychology, superstition and the criminally insane into the text, so that no matter his horrific crimes, the monster Favez becomes almost a sympathetic character, somebody who has slipped through the cracks. He is a victim, first of childhood abuse and neglect, then of a public outcry and an embattled legal system for whom he is such a perfect scapegoat that the matter of his guilt is almost incidental. Chessex's writing is poignant and beautiful, even when detailing scenes of the utmost horror, and the subtext is one that has significance for us all in this age of media witch hunts. And then there is the delicious twist at the end, which undercuts the whole programme of the book by offering Favez an entirely different fate than the one intended, making him emblematic of pointless death and suffering itself, the irony of a noble end which sees his own remains disinterred. There may not be much here in physical terms, words and pages, but The Vampire of Ropraz is the ideal length for what it sets out to achieve and packs a significant wallop'. - Black Static
'Translated from its original text, this compelling tale based upon a true story, challenges the boundaries between horror and true crime. Set in 1905 deep in the Jura Mountains, superstition existed side by side with strict Protestantism. Isolation and poverty compounded by relentless bad weather created an atmosphere where dark secrets lurked. The horrific violation of three graves containing the remains of young women led to what amounted to a witch-hunt that focused on Charles Favez, a stable boy discovered violating livestock.
Dubbed the Vampire of Ropraz, Favez was as much a victim as the three young women. Removed from his abusive parents, Favez was placed in foster care where he was brutalized daily, his life a misery of hunger and pain. Even in prison, Favez could not escape sexual predators. After a sham trial, Favez received a life sentence yet he may have the last laugh when it comes to light that the Unknown Solder entombed under the Arc de Triomphe may be none other then the Vampire of Ropraz.
Chessex' stark, spare writing style exposes the story's bare bones, creating a compelling tale that delves into prejudice, superstitious fears and base cruelties thinly veiled by social morals. A fascinating telling that will leave readers wondering who were the true criminals and victims.' - Monsters and Critics
'All the more chilling for having its roots in a true story, Prix Goncourt winner Jacques Chessex bases this slim but powerful tale of horror on events that took place in 1903 in his own backyard--a small village in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland. The recently buried body of a young woman who died of meningitis is found unearthed, hideously mutilated and half-eaten. Shortly afterwards, two more young women's bodies are found similarly violated--clearly the work of a vampire. As terror spreads in the region, there is huge pressure to nail the pervert, but no solid evidence. Chessex weaves an evocative tale of fear, prejudice and cruelty among country folk living like animals in the early part in the early part of the last century.' - Daily Mail
'In 1903 in Ropraz, Switzerland, a young woman dies from meningitis. Soon after she is buried, her tomb is opened and she has been defiled by someone who sliced off a hand, mutilated her virginal genitals, and ripped out her heart. The residents of the Jura Mountain village are horrified by the depraved defilement and many believe no Godly person could have done the deed. The villagers believe something paranormally evil did the deed.. Garlic is hung everywhere and no one goes anywhere without wearing a cross; nocturnal activity is almost nonexistent. Two more corpses are found as mutilated as that of the young girl. Suspicion falls on stable boy Favez due to his being a loner and more so because of his eyes, which are a bit more reddish than normal. He is arrested and sent to an asylum to receive psychiatric help. This is an interesting fictionalization of a true crime incident in which the reactions to the depravity is the prime emphasis instead of the horror or the inquiry. In 106 pages, Jacques Chessex contrasts the pristine cold beauty of the region to the cold-blooded horrific defiling acts and the reactions of the locals who turn to superstition to ward off evil. Although not a supernatural thriller as the title is a metaphor and neither a police procedural investigative tale, THE VAMPIRE OF ROPRAZ is a fine historical tale that looks deep at Swiss villagers' reactions to gruesome deeds at the turn of the previous century with a fitting final spin.' - MBR Bookwatch
'Jacques Chessex's brief true story describes the necrophilia, bestiality and rape that broke out in the Swiss canton of Vaud in 1903. A 21-year-old farm hand was arrested and sentenced to 20 years. In 1913, he escaped--and what may have happened to him in the First World War is one of the more extraordinary twists in the tale ever. A peculiarly memorable little book.' - Evening Standard
'This disturbing gem from Prix Goncourt winner Jacques Chessex, barely 100 pages long, is a much-needed antidote to the spate of novels that make the vampire an object of romantic desire for girls and women of all ages. Instead, the titular character desecrates and defiles his already dead victims, wrenching them from peaceful permanent sleep and tearing apart their corpses until "the bestial meal [is] consumed." He hunts in tiny Swiss mountain villages, such as Ropraz, at the turn of the 20th century, violating not only the bodies of three young women -- starting with judge's daughter Rosa Gillieron -- but also the placid spirits of the townsfolk, instilling fear and suspicion into their collective consciousness. The ensuing narrative seems superficially straightforward as a suspect is caught and tried, only to be declared mentally incompetent and later escaping to join the French legion. But look deeper and Chessex appears to be playing games with the reader. The Vampire of Ropraz claims to be based on a true story, but the name of Rosa's father matches that of a notable Swiss artist and restorer. The eventual suspect has the overlong teeth and shambling menace of a would-be vampire, but Chessex leaves the real possibility of his guilt an open question. And then there's the shocking amusement of an ending that meddles with history -- and causes the reader to come to grips with how complicit one is in widespread horror.' - Barnes and Noble
'In 1903 at the small Swiss village of Ropraz an horrific crime is perpetrated. On his way to cut wood with his son Hermann, local man Francois Rod discovers a recently opened tomb in the village graveyard. The body of a newly buried young woman has been violated and attacked in the most sickening way. Her left hand has been severed, her genitals mutilated and her heart cut out. The sickening and appalling nature of the crime sends shockwaves of fear and repulsion through the local community. However, the terrible violation of the tomb serves also to re-ignite dormant superstitions and repressed fears as terrified villagers turn to crucifixes and garlic as protection against what they believe must be a supernatural threat to their safety. The violation of recently buried bodies continues and soon the local people are baying for the blood of the vampire who is said to have carried out the attacks. A likely suspect is soon found in the form of a disturbed stable boy with blood-shot eyes called Charles-Augustin Favez.The plot of The Vampire of Ropraz is particularly discomforting because Swiss author Jacques Chessex based it on a true story.
At a slender 106 pages in length it might be considered something of a brief work but be assured it packs a considerable visceral punch and once read is unlikely to be quickly forgotten. It is a disconcerting and troubling read that appears to point an accusing finger at abuses within society that arguably lead to further abuse and at the apparent need for people to cloak frightening events in metaphors such as a belief in the existence of vampires. Chessex also notes how society appears to condone the violence of individuals in certain situations such as war. At times darkly poetic in its use of stark, bleak language The Vampire of Ropraz sits somewhere between the horror of Greek Tragedy and the unsentimental reportage of war correspondence. Unusual and compelling The Vampire of Ropraz is a harsh portrait of monstrous yet human actions.' - Crime Time
'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 Ropraz', 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 but with a 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.' - Complete-review
'Based on a true story, The Vampire of Ropraz is a hybrid of folk tale, allegory, literary Surrealism, and crime story. Jacques Chessex's book shares some ground with Nosferatu (the first vampire movie), The Return of Martin Guerre, the Wild Child of Aveyron, Kosinksi's The Painted Bird, the dark strain of French literature (the grotesqueries of Georges Batailles and Blaise Cendrars, who is not only cited in the book but becomes a character) and the crime novels of Fred Vargas (though her Medieval and folktale plots usually veer toward realist solutions before the end), and Friedrich Glauser (in the dark and atavistic countryside of several of his books, especially The Spoke). All of that in a mere 106 pages of large type, plus there's a very large twist at the end. The story is fairly straightforward: In fairly quick succession, three women's bodies are exhumed in the night from their fresh graves and the bodies are mutilated and sexually violated. Casting around for suspects, the authorities seize upon a young man discovered in an act of bestiality with farm animals, and the young man becomes the center of public outcry ( "Kill the Vampire "), legal proceedings, sexual fascination, and psychological study. He is ultimately sentenced to life in prison, incarcerated instead in an asylum, escapes, and dies in World War I as a soldier of the French Foreign Legion. The style alternates between documentary, poetry, and fictional narrative in reconstruction of, alternately, rough outlines of the story and intimate imaginings of fiction and dialogue. Altogether, the novel is a fast and intense experience, and no one should let the literary precedents and overtones put them off: Chessex never loses sight of the true story at the center of his narrative, and the spooky quality of the novel resonates with the core of human nature rather than with supernatural speculations. The final ironic twist, whether speculation or invention on the author's part, carries the story out into everyday political and social experience. Several of Chessex's other novels have been available in English for some time, but none had appealed to me-they appeared to be oppressive in theme and style. I'll have to check them out now, but I have a suspicion that the germ of reality in The Vampire of Ropraz both anchors it in naturalism and intensifies the strange fascination of the story. If anyone can link this book to Chessex's others, I'd love to hear.' - International Noir
'Inspired by a true story, Chessex's crime novella offers a sobering appraisal of human superstition and prejudice. In 1903, the ghoulish desecration of several women's graves in the rural Swiss village of Ropraz leads locals to intuit a vampire's handiwork. Suspicion falls on Charles-Augustin Favez, a brutish farmhand with a history of alcoholism and lewd behavior. Though no accusations hold up against him in court, Favez is imprisoned: he makes the perfect defenseless scapegoat onto whom citizens in the backward community project their own "shameful secrets. " In measured prose that studiously sidesteps sensationalism, Chessex (L'Ogre) recounts the alternating repulsion and fascination that Favez stimulates in the many persons involved with his case, all of whom vampirically exploit him to satisfy their own needs. The book concludes with a wonderfully mordant speculation on Favez's fate after he escapes prison and joins the French army during WWI.' - Publishers Weekly
'There's a new, literary vampire in town and it's Jacques Chessex's The Vampire of Ropraz. Chessex, one of the most important living authors in Switzerland and winner of the Goncourt Prize, bases this extraordinary book on a true story that occurred in in the Jura Mountains in 1903.While the story could be considered a crime novel, the reality is that the book is much more of a moral tale that focuses on a community's fear of the unknown and strange. A beautifully and sparsely written book (less than 110 pages), this is a story that will leave you with more questions than answers - who has committed the horrendous crimes outlined in the novel? Is the accused truly criminal or simply a product of a life filled with abuse at the hands of others? Chessex is a first class writer who turns the notion of the vampire on its head...' - Literature-chick
'Chessex's short novel - 100 pages - was first published overseas in 2007, but Bitter Lemon Press now brings the Swiss author's work to these shores, with a matter-of-fact, unfussy translation from the French by W. Donald Wilson. The story is based on an true-life event that happened in 1093.
In the Swiss village of Ropraz, a young woman is discovered mutilated, exactly as you read above. The town is all abuzz about who would do such a thing - a vampire is the logical conclusion. He must be caught before he kills again. But he's not. Another victim is soon found, and another, all the same type of female, all destroyed in the same manner of savagery. A break in the case arrives when some farm animals are found to be have raped - by one instrument or another - with saliva and sperm left behind in a manner matching that found on the dead women. When a socially inept farmhand named Charles-Augustin Favez is caught in the act of "having his way with a hobbled heifer, " authorities think they have their vamp. Or do they? The book works because of its simplicity. Keeping the page count low makes the tale taut. Because it adheres to the true story, ROPRAZ doesn't follow the traditional, three-act thriller structure, so it doesn't culminate in a climax, but on a note of irony. You'd be disappointed if that were a novel, but in a slim volume such as this which can be digested in half an hour, it's rather fitting. Chessex's - and Wilson's, one must assume - prose is lyrical, even for such a gruesome subject. Leave it to a literary treatment to remind us that real-life horrors are scarier than any fiction can conjure.' - Bookgasm
'Where I live, winter is not just the name of a season; it's a state of being. Today I look out the windows-sure, there's a line of geese heading to where the Boardman pours out into West Bay making a little unfrozen spot, but there's also snow like grit, like clouds of icy gnats, and the view beyond a block fades away into clammy gray. From below, all day long, comes the sound of chopping and metal on concrete. The few people on the streets walk with their shoulders hunched into collars and faces obscured by scarves. I can see my car from here, growing a toupee of white, the interior vinyl collecting its special frostiness. But, when all's said and done, I live in a city. A small city, but nonetheless convivial. You won't find boys hacking their grandparents to death for a couple hundred bucks, or bar fights that end in the spring when the body catches in the dam. Superstition drifts harmlessly in the garden dream-catchers and cement angels of liberal townies.
The regional paper tells another story-one of generational alcoholism, incest, fundamentalism, the desire for the destruction of culture and the longing to survive by tooth and folklore. A drive to the nearest major ski resort (30 minutes) takes you past homes sided with black plastic, ancient peeling doublewides, windowless cinderblock bars, and tiny isolated stores that sell gas and the smoked flesh of the local wildlife. In the summer there are campers and cabin-owners in these hundreds of acres forests of northern Michigan; in the winter, there's the ticking of your own brain, or your wife's brain, or your kid's.
The people who live in the deep forests are not the entrepreneurial spirits found in cities-for a city attracts idea-makers whether they're thieves or manufacturers. They're not of the farmer-type either, who must clear the path to plant and watch the weather, who must plan for good times and bad. Backwoods people live day-to-day, scrap to scrap. Most of them were born in the place; some have been pushed there, like to the end of a rope; a few have invented the place for themselves.
Which is all a long introduction to the kind of chill of the suspected-unknown that The Vampire or Ropraz, a short novel by Prix Goncourt winner Jacques Chessex, produced. High in the Jorat mountains, the twenty-year old daughter of a local dignitary dies of meningitis and is buried in the frozen February earth. Two days later her grave is discovered open, the coffin unscrewed. Intestines are hanging out in the snow, the girl's left hand has been severed, and her flesh bitten everywhere and spit out in the bushes. Although the story takes place in Switzerland, it is not so far geographically from the land of Vlad, and this rapist of dead women is quickly called "Vampire " by the press.
All right, so the press has always loved catchy titles for their criminals, and although the violation takes place in the isolated, squalid areas, where "ideas have no currency, tradition is a dead weight, " where poverty and lack of education leave people "barred inside their skulls, " where ailments are nourished with potions, and spells are concocted with menstrual blood and toad spittle, they don't lynch the suspect when they finally get their hands on him. They hand him over to a psychologist who takes him to his ward on Christmas Day to "sing of Christ's birth, drink mulled wine and eat little cakes baked by volunteers in the kitchen. "
The young man ages twelve years in the ward before the War arrives, opening the gates. Immediately, he joins the Foreign Legion (he was rejected by the army in his youth, in his own country) and is killed seven months later on the Souain road. A broken body in a muddy battlefield would seem to be the end of it, but no: in 1920, France's Unknown Soldier is chosen by lot from among eight anonymous coffins. Recent DNA research suggests that the body of the soldier who lies beneath the Arc de Triumph is none other than Charles-Augustin Favez, convicted in Switzerland of vampirism and desecration of graves. And the question is, how could this man be a monster in one place and a hero in another? The Vampire of Ropraz is a superb choice for feisty book clubs.'
- ForeWord Magazine
'Jacques Chessex's The Vampire of Ropraz is a disturbing tale made even more unsettling by the author's minimalist approach to his material. Chessex takes as his starting point a true story of necrophilia and savagery that occurred in the Swiss village of Ropraz in the early Twentieth Century and spins a spare, but powerful story. A young girl dies and is buried. Days later, her corpse is found after having been dug up, violated and mutilated. After that, paranoia spreads throughout the countryside as the authorities scramble to find the perpetrator. Another girl's corpse is found, and the paranoia mounts. Eventually, suspicion falls on Favez, an alcoholic stable boy with a penchant for molesting cows. While Favez is clearly disturbed, his guilt in the matter at hand is far from clear. Nevertheless, he is judged guilty and ends up in a psychiatric hospital, where he stays for decades before simply walking away one day. Vampire, translated from French by W. Donald Wilson, is a slim book, coming in at around 100 pages. Chessex tells the story of Favez with admirable restraint, and his detached, almost reportorial tone makes the crimes involved in the story all the more horrific. The effect is unsettling because one can't help but want the author to weigh in with some sort of disapproval when writing about necrophilia and bestiality, but Chessex refuses to condemn. Eventually, the reason for this authorial distance is revealed, as The Vampire of Ropraz is not a story about monstrous crimes, but a tale about the fungible nature of identity.' - Independent Crime
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  • Jacques ChessexThe Vampire of Ropraz