Friday, May 1, 2009

Horror Review - The Vampire of Ropraz

In The Vampire of Ropraz, Jacques Chessex explores the power of myth and superstition in the cold, bitter countryside of Vaud, Switzerland in the early 20th Century. The book is translated eloquently from its original French by W. Donald Wilson, but loses none of its stark poeticism.

The title of this book could have multiple meanings. In one sense, it refers to the hero (and villain) of the story, Charles-Augustin Favez. Favez is accused of a series of grizzly crimes involving the desecration and mutilation of the bodies of three recently-buried young women in the area. In another sense, the Vampire is Ropraz, for the real focus of the story is not on the twisted stable-boy Favez, but the twisted society from which he emerges, calling out for his blood regardless of innocence or guilt. Finally, it could represent the 'woman in white' who visits Favez during his confinement to satisfy her own terrible needs.

Favez' guilt or innocence is incidental to the story; just because he is a scapegoat, after all, doesn't mean that he didn't do it. Instead, the important point to draw from the novel is the way society reacts to what they believe is the truth, or wish to be the truth. The most satisfying aspect of this book was, paradoxically, its opacity. There is no clear answer, no explanation, no vindication. The whole point is, rather, the obscurity and desolation of an obscure and desolate people in a cold wasteland of petty superstitions and subtle derangement.

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