Rupert: A Confession Hardcover – Jun 15 2009
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About the Author
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer is a poet, novelist, and literary critic. He's the only Dutch author to have won both of the most coveted debut poetry and prose prizes in the Netherlands and is the editor of the literary journal De Revisor and founder and editor of the poetry journal Awater.
Michele Hutchison studied at the Universities of East Anglia and Cambridge before taking a job in publishing. She lives in Amsterdam where she works as a translator and editor.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Literature is filled with the hero who exists only to fulfill his heroic tasks. To slay the dragon and rescue the maiden, even if, as in Orlando Furioso, the maiden isn't necessarily wild about the whole thing. What counts, what is paramount, is the purity of thought, the shining example of chivalry, of adventure, of quest. Homer's Ulysses to that of Joyce, to well, Rupert.
Throughout much of the book the reader colludes with the author in seeing Rupert's journey or quest, portrayed in three hearings to a jury, as harmless and somewhat prosaic. More Quixote than King Arthur, we readers have a long history of tolerating and cheering on the endless heroes more blinded by windmills than sane adventures. It is harmless literature, it is part of a noble tradition, and why should all our heroes of today be those boring super heroes of Marvel Comics? Hurray for the pure hearted buffoon off to save his heroine.
The language of the first two hearings, and particularly the first, are wonderfully calibrated to this heroic, or at least mock-heroic style. The maiden calls Rupert the Irresistible Virgin-Slayer. But Rupert is actually unable to live outside his heroic fantasies. It is his maiden who must take control, demanding..."And now action. Enough beating about the bush. Is something going to come of this, brave knight?" But unfortunately, no. While his soul pretends to chivalry, his lust is limited to porno and peepshows. With his damsel, he is impotent.
More of the heroic/sleaze juxtaposition in the first hearing. There is a chapter describing the film version of romantic love followed by duecento love lyrics, juxtaposed to the utterly anti-heroic: "she wasn't like Cynthia, who still lived at home, kissed like a vacuum pump, and gave me a blow j..[Amazon required change] in the alleyway."
The second hearing sees Rubert as a literary figure quoting several poets, most frequently T.S. Eliot. He goes on a multi-page riff on literary insults followed by geometric squares. And then we come to his Beatrice...Mira. There are ramblings about he and Mira being both actors and viewers, playing out roles known and unknown, living a fools paradise until Mira told him what he probably already knew, she had found someone else. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Rupert didn't probably know it already. Worse still, Rupert the Hopelessly Happy didn't have a clue." It is at this point that Rupert veers off in his quest from the chivalrous and romantic to the obsessed and depraved. But surely taken as a whole it is hard to see the loony romanticism of the early chapters as anything but the deranged fantasies of a man who simply does not understand the difference between real and imagined. Who can only live by re-imagining the real into a fantasy. And I fear that this is true of all those thousands of heroic figures of olden days. Is the only difference between Dante and Rupert that Mira had the ability to tell her man to get lost, and Beatrice didn't?
A huge cheer for this translation by Michelle Hutchinson. The language is nimble, veering from the heroic to the sleaze, from the tower to the street, and the language itself mirrors these changes. The moods are well represented in the language, which always feels natural and alive. That is a linguistically challenging book to translate, and the test has been well met by Ms. Hutchinson.
Like an expert performer, Rupert maintains a taut suspense by slowly revealing, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, the important details of his story. His monologue is littered with early, subtle signs of his lunacy, such as his explanation of why he's an expert at all martial arts after only "a couple of lessons": "Those born to the Path see through the principles of every martial art and assimilate them into their soul without having to get bogged down in the details of the particular techniques." Delusional, surely, but also quite humorous. As the monologue progresses, the humor subsides, and Rupert's delusions become ever more menacing. Rupert constantly plays with the distinctions between performers and audience, exhibitionists and voyeurs. Eventually, like many violent criminals, Rupert views himself as existing outside of his body and its actions; he becomes "the voyeur of his own exhibitionism."
Pfeijffer's lyrical prose shows heavy influences of Nabokov: "Mira, my sugar-sweet, shimmering Mira, my masochism, my martyrdom, light of my lips, lymph of my cyanic sadness, sea of my swan dive, salt on my howling wounds, wait for me and let me find you." These lines (so beautifully translated by Michele Hutchinson) reveal the depth of Rupert's obsession with Mira and hint at the trouble to come.
This masterfully constructed novel culminates in a scene that might be the most powerful description of a crime I've ever read. As to be expected with the stories of psychopaths, Rupert is sexually explicit and loaded with the worst kinds of violence. If that's okay with you, this glimpse into the twisted mind of a criminal will blow you away.
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 resort to slimy peepshows and hardcore pornography to get himself off. It 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.
* Review copy *
Rupert is accused of a crime, and the novel comprises statements he makes to the court in three hearings. Much of his account is of his love for Mira, the ideal woman he has lost, but his meanderings into other matters--the city as a repository of memories, the ideal public square, e.g.--are every bit as interesting, and every bit as revealing (though less readily so) of Rupert's personality and, often, of his need to play the role of spectator/spectacle.
The word-play begins with the subtitle, is apparent in Mira's name, and continues. There are phrases, just as there are some characters, that recur in varying circumstances throughout the book. And the literary references are used beautifully: Nabokov, Eliot, Algonquin Round Table habitues, classical writers and more are all worked in in, but with a light and usually comic touch, and their very presence tells us something about Rupert.
I skimmed some online reviews after finishing this, and some of them complained that the book was prurient/titillating or that it contained deeply upsetting scenes. It's true that a horrible crime is described, but because it's done so, tellingly, at second hand in poetic language the account of it isn't nauseous. There's a fair bit about Rupert's sexual fantasies and failures, but there's nothing gratuitous in the way they're detailed.
This is a book I'll read again, for several reasons: No doubt I'll find details and references I missed in this reading; oblique references to trial evidence near the end put a different slant on the previous pages; I want to read it even more closely, as Pfeijffer seems so intelligent a writer that I think he's chosen each character, each episode, and each word with very great care; and simply because it's a page-turner that's also great fun. . . Clever cover design, as well.