The Vampire of Ropraz

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 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.

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