After recently reading Jew Must Die, A
and enjoying it I wanted to try something else by the late author, Jacques Chessex. Finding this book on this site it looked like it may appeal to me despite the not very flattering reviews already here. Taking a chance I ordered it and am very glad that I did.
This is supposedly based on a true story, and I know that it caused a furore and some animosity to the author when it was first published, from the inhabitants of Ropraz. I must admit that I haven't so far found any references to this case apart from links to this book, which doesn't mean that it didn't happen. What has to be remembered that after Dracula was published in 1897 and then the play that followed there was quite a lot of publicity and there started throughout Europe a form of vampire hysteria. Indeed I do know that in France there was a famous vampire case which turned out to be a case of necrophilia, which in some ways the case in this book portrays. Perhaps some of you may be sceptical of this, but remember when the original The Day The Earth Stood Still [DVD] [1951
] was shown thoughout America there was an increase of sightings of UFOs and aliens. Indeed you only have to look back into our own history, in the early 19th century a sighting of what was to be known as 'Spring Heeled Jack' started a national hysteria, with most sightings in London.
Anyway, back to the book. With its sparse prose and mainly reportage style writing Chessex weaves a tale that will hold you gripped. You get the feel of the countryside being bleak in the winter, with people in isolation, and lots of secrets in the families, from incest to murder. When a young girl's body is foud dug up from her grave mutilated, and obviously sexually abused you know that there is something truly macabre here. When more female bodies come to light you can feel the terror that must have gone through the people in the area. Dead bodies now, but when would live young women start to be attacked? With the press calling the perpetrator 'The Vampire of Ropraz' hysteria inevitably builds, and more and more pressure is put on the police to capture the culprit. Enter Carles-Augustin Favez who is caught having sex with a cow. Being crippled anf of low intelligence he seems an ideal culprit, but there is no evidence. Released from remand he disappears only to be caught raping a woman. And so Favez is tried for the 'vampire' cases as well.
Some people feel the ending of this story a bit of a let down, with Favez escaping and taking part in World War 1, but I think that this adds to the whole story with a touch of irony and the darkest of black humour. This may only be a novella and quick to read, but you can remember it long afterwards, as it strikes a cord deep in your psyche.
Some people may not like this as it is so sparsely written it takes more effort to read. It is the reader who does the work, reading between the lines and building up a fuller story. This I think adds to it as it becomes more personal and more terrifying, as well as more memorable. If you like good literature then you really should read this, also this book would be an excellent choice for a reading group, as there is a lot to discuss here. The story is slighly surreal, gothic and macabre and I defy anyone reading it not to have strong feelings about it at the end.