HOW TO QUIET A VAMPIRE BY BORISLAV PEKIC

I am not exactly someone who has their finger on the pulse of popular culture, but, as far I am aware, Vampires are still in vogue, so it is entirely possible that you have stumbled upon this review by accident. I’m tempted to pretend, in an effort to hoodwink those of you who are here in error, that this novel contains within its pages Bieber-like undead to rival any whiny, in-desperate-need-of-a-good-pants-party, teenage vampire from Twilight. Alas, I cannot bear to be so unkind. Therefore, in the interests of avoiding confusion let me make it clear: THERE ARE NO ACTUAL VAMPIRES IN THIS BOOK. However, in an effort to appeal to the masses I will be peppering this review with pictures of popular bloodsuckers, like:

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Borislav Pekic’s novel is that dying breed, a genuine philosophical novel of ideas. In fact, each chapter is named after a particular philosophy text, but How To Quiet A Vampire is not nearly as heavy-going as its near contemporaries The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil and The Sleepwalkers by Hermann Broch, although it is the equal of both in quality.

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The main narrative thread of How To Quiet A Vampire is that of an ex-Gestapo interrogator, Konrad Rutkowski, and his descent into guilt-induced madness. While this may sound like dark and daunting subject matter, the book is actually uproariously funny. This isn’t merely because I have an odd sense of humour [although it is true that I seem to find amusing books that strike others as bleak, Hunger by Hamsun being an example], the author subtitled it ‘a sotie’ which is a term for a short satirical play.

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The focus of Konrad’s guilt is the fate of one particular prisoner, whom he wanted to release. He was denied this opportunity, however, because the prisoner was arrested before the Gestapo arrived at the prison. This prisoner, therefore, does not appear on their records, rendering him non-existent as far as Konrad’s superior is concerned. Of course, one cannot release a man who does not exist! This kind of logical jiggery-pokery suffuses the entire book.

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The structure of How To Quiet A Vampire is that of a series of letters written by Konrad to his brother-in-law Hilmar. It is, then, his words, thoughts, and opinions that are the primary content of the novel, and yet it is his superior Steinbrecher who dominates the whole show. He is a tremendously impressive character; a larger-than-life villain of Shakespearean proportions, who is as charismatic and mysterious as Ahab. It is he who drives the novel towards genius, as he uses Wittgensteinian philosophical techniques and arguments to befuddle and entrap his victims. Indeed, a whole transcript of one of his interrogations is provided, and it is fabulously entertaining from start to finish.

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As far as I am aware Pekic is not popularly considered to be a major writer, and I haven’t at this time read anything else by him, but I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a brave, surreal masterpiece that hopefully will one day be widely recognised as the great triumph that it is.

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