I have just finished reading “The Finno-Ugrian Vampire” by Noémi Szécsi, translated from the original Hungarian. I won my copy in a competition (See my recent post: My latest book stuff), which was good because i had discovered the novel not long ago and was eager for the English translation to be published!
This is one strange, yet fascinating, novel!
I loved the refreshing take on vampires, going back to a more traditional view of bloodsucking and coffin-sleeping creatures who, against tradition, go out in the daylight and work meaningless jobs and live in less than privileged circumstances despite being rich.
Jerne is interesting as she is a graduate of the arts who wants to be a writer but ends up moving further away from this. She obsesses over her animals in her stories and you can tell she studied literature from the way she talks about them. I get the impression that she has a independent streak, but still lets her grandmother take care of her (in the only way a vampire guardian can!) and give her advice.
Her grandmother is a fascinating character, who is over 200 years old yet still glamourous. She bosses Jerne around, giving her advice which isn’t always taken, and telling stories from her past, many of which Jerne knows off by heart! She is a fabulous example of a meat-grinding vampire, whose age has helped contribute to her vast fortune accumulated over her afterlife. She is caring though, looking after her granddaughter from the moment Jerne arrived in an unexpected parcel. However, she is determined to make her into a proper vampire and basically acts like a vampiric life-coach (or after-life-coach!).
The first half of the novel is about Jerne and her writing and her job at a small publishers. She doesn’t like the sight of blood and her grandmother despairs at her lack of vampiric desires. Jerne tries to get her animal stories published but is knocked back by her boss and sets about re-writing them. Her boss’ partner sets his sights on Jerne and this develops into a strange sort of relationship.
The novel shifts rather suddenly into Jerne’s death and reincarnation as a vampire, although the change is fairly subtle and i wasn’t sure what and how it had happened at first read. It all happens rather matter-of-factly: no big fuss is made about the change. Jerne gets a new job and leaves behind people in her past, but meets a bunch of new people, and also develops a relationship with a woman who teaches her Hungarian.
The ending is somewhat surprising, but i won’t spoil it!
The mood of the novel seems to change with Jerne’s ressurection, with her grandmother being adamant that she doesn’t write anymore until she gets more life experience. I do think she is just being a little bit selfish towards her granddaughter though. Jerne has all these possibilities as a young woman: she could still want to marry and have children, and maybe actually make it as a proper writer as she wanted to be at the start of the novel. She seems to lose interest in her old career choices (maybe it’s her grandmother’s influence, or just the after-effects of her change into a vampire) and seems to settle for more mundane jobs. I had expected more exciting things to happen, thinking that the change into a vampire would be the focal point of the novel but i’m not sure if this novel has a proper climax because it seems to plod along. It’s not hard to follow or read, but it’s not the best novel i’ve ever read, although it has its merits!
I give this novel a 7 out of 10 because it is interesting to read about vampires in a different way, the grandmother is a fabulous character, and the Hungarian aspect is totally different to anything i’ve read before. It reads like a more literary novel than contemporary in some places but it’s a really good piece of writing. Worth a read if you fancy something different to the normal and current trend of pathetic vampires!