Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rupert: A Confession (A Review)

Rupert: A Confession
By Ilja Leornard Pfeijffer
Translated by Michele Hutchinson
Open Letter Press
131 pages
June 23, 2009

You'd feel the heated jealousy in the men's stares; the hopeless looks given by men in the company of their wives or girlfriends as the thought struck them that they'd gone about their lives the wrong way; the warm looks from old men with sweet memories; the warm looks from women; the amazed, chatter-stopping looks from the young women, . . . and above all the smattering of looks of respect and admiration that I allowed to wash over me like applause, an ovation for Rupert the Virgin-Slayer, the Charming, the Irresistible Knight, so noble, aristocratic, and great that a woman like this worships him.

Ilja Pfeijffer - Dutch poet, novelist, literary critic, and former Ancient Greek scholar - seems to have taken a page from Dean Koontz (i.e. Corky Laputa, Edgler Vess, Junior) and given the villain of his controversial 2002 novella a rather dorky and innocuous-sounding moniker. I wonder if irony was intended. Of course, Rupert is also the protagonist and narrator of Rupert: A Confession, which is structured as a long-winded and thoroughly self-indulgent speech to a jury over the course of three hearings. Rupert is being tried for a terrible crime (to be revealed at the end) and he firmly believes himself to be innocent. His rambling monologues, however, reveal another, very dark story. The frighteningly brilliant result is best described as pathological poetry.

Pfeijffer also shares with Koontz a love of T.S. Eliot, which was a pleasant surprise because I also love Eliot. But whereas Koontz often uses Eliot's verse to emphasize hope amid horror, Rupert's paraphrases of "The Waste Land" reveal an eerie detachment from humanity and a lack of real empathy for what he perceives to be actors putting on a show for him. His only "real" social attachment is his one great love, beautiful Mira, an impossibly idealized woman whom Rupert describes as "the fact the makes fiction possible." In fact, she's such a feminine paragon she makes him sexually impotent, although that doesn't stop his constant self-aggrandizing. Rupert is the perfect example of the sociopathic narcissist, a man with no concept of how to love a real woman and who must subsequently result to slimy peepshows and hardcore pornography to get himself off. It is comes as no surprise that Mira finally gets fed up and leaves him, which ends up precipitating a brutal and horrifying event that Pfeijffer lays out all too vividly.

Rupert: A Confession is one of those books that you hate to love. Pfeijffer does an excellent job evoking both the psyche of an unbalanced and sexually dysfunctional criminal and the man-made geography of a large city, from the heights of its statues and architecture to the seediest, most animalistic portion of its underbelly. It is a reflection of the mind of man: carnal, creative, and ultimately two-faced.


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