The Finno-Ugrian Vampire
Although many teenagers these days would tell you there is nothing more exciting than being a vampire, Jerne Volt Ampere is not ready to embrace her destiny; she would much rather spend her time writing children’s books than sucking the blood of the innocent. Unfortunately this doesn’t sit well with her 200-year old grandmother, with whom Jerne lives in the attic of an old house in Budapest.
Jerne soon finds a job in a small publishing house but her stories are deemed too cruel and obscene for children. At home, her grandmother grows increasingly impatient with Jerne’s reluctance to accept her vampiric legacy, and begins to concoct a scheme to make her granddaughter a true vampire.
This two-part novel tells a story of love, death and one girl’s passion to overcome her destiny, all set against the backdrop of contemporary Hungary.
Praise for The Finno-Ugrian Vampire
Voted the Best Book in Hungary in 2011
Selected for the 2012 European Literature Night
Selected for Adapting For Cinema project
‘Most innovative, trenchant vampire tale…Two engines drive this most unconventional bildungsroman: Jerne’s witty, sardonic narrative voice and “Grandma.”…It’s her [Jerne] voice—misogynistic, wry, astute, and unfailingly deadpan—that keeps us rapidly turning pages even as we savor every sentence….The Finno-Ugrian Vampire belongs at the top of your “must-read” list.’ Michael A. Morrison, World Literature Today
‘Written in 2001, long before the recent teenage craze for the Twilight films, The Finno-Ugrian Vampire now appears in Peter Sherwood’s skilful and entertaining translation…amusing postmodernist farce…If at first she [Jerne] believes literature might provide an alternative to the vocation of vampirehood, maturity yields the discovery that authors feed on each other just as voraciously as do bloodsuckers on the living.’ Zsuzsanna Varga, The Times Literary Supplement
‘a clever satire on the whole notion of Hungarian-ness, nationalism and the stereotypes of Eastern Europe…played for laughs’ Tibor Fischer, Saturday Guardian
‘Sherwood’s translation is noteworthy—skillful but unobtrusive. Lauded in Szécsi’s native Hungary and popular in Europe, this tale of an awkward vampire amuses; the disaffected protagonist and the inherent absurdity of vampires in a mundane setting provide a looking glass with which to examine modern life.’ Publishers Weekly
‘The Finno-Ugrian Vampire clearly will take its place alongside other present renditions of the vampire myth, including the novels of Anne Rice and the most recent Twilight series. (Perhaps it is unfair to compare Jerne to the rather lock-jawed Bella, but there is certainly no contest when it comes to wit.) Hopefully, readers will find their way to this eminently enjoyable novel, in the highly readable translation of Peter Sherwood.’ Ottilie Mulzet, Hungarian Literature Online
‘If you’ve ever felt like the outsider, even within your own family, Jerne’s tale will resonate like struck crystal. Gawkily unpredictable and meandering, wry and clever and vivid, this is not the vampire story you’re expecting’ WhichBook
‘Strange book in two parts that I both appreciated even if I’m partial to the first one. Do not think about the usual vampire book, because this one has nothing to share with twilight or similaria and the grandmother was one of the funniest character I recently came along’ Libritudine
‘Very funny…The book is witty and bleak, and in the first half in particular it’s lightly drawn together. The second part is more absurd and defiant in its refusal to become what readers might expect’ For Books’ Sake
‘The Finno-Ugrian Vampire understands that finding one’s own place in the world, the struggle to move beyond the parental yoke, is a far more terrifying reality than falling prey to a creature of darkness…Textured with a witty and ironic language, the novel takes no prisoners…the English language reader should welcome this translation with open arms (or fangs).’ Richard W Jackson, Bookgeeks
‘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.’ A World of Randomness
‘a fascinating read, very accessible and entertaining, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. Grandma is one of the most original characters I’ve come across for a long time and the contrast between her revelry in vampiredom and Jerne’s reluctance is very well done’ A Discount Ticket to Everywhere
‘an entertaining, sly commentary on Hungary…All in all: an odd, enjoyable literary-vampiric romp’ Complete Review
‘clever and witty piece…refreshing injection of sardonic humour into the vampire vein. Vampy Grandma, with her silk evening dresses and painted toenails is a triumph…I also admired the novel for its linguistic inventiveness’ Bookoxygen
I could call my grandmother cosmopolitan, since she has visited virtually every corner of the globe and everywhere felt immediately at home. But not every citizen of the world is likely to use a china tooth mug decorated with a map of Greater Hungary and the irredentist slogan ‘Transylvania is Ours!’ Because that’s what my Grandmother is like. She comes home at dawn having gorged herself, and uses this mug to rinse out her mouth. Sometimes she wakes me up with the noise of her gargling. And that’s just how it was that morning. I stumbled out to the bathroom as I was, in my nightgown. It was a quarter past five. Grandma was just stripping away the layers of make-up she had plastered over her intense beauty. Because she is gorgeous, like a newly-restored porcelain doll. As the slinky little silk evening dress slid from her slim body, Grandma glittered in all her unvarnished glory and I just stood there awkwardly in the cotton nightdress that I wore now that the autumn nights were drawing in but before the district’s central heating had been switched on.
‘You’re late, Gran,’ I said pointedly.
‘Yes, I’m absolutely livid. This fellow tonight was an absolute disaster. I tried every trick in the book, body language and all, before he realised where I was headed. To cap it all, he lived out in the back of beyond and once I was done I had to wait an hour for a taxi. Meanwhile I watched him bleed dry. Once he’d snuffed it, I left.’
‘Please, spare me the details.’
Sometimes when I think of blood, I feel quite ill. Nauseated. In my mind’s eye I can see the gaping wounds, and it’s as if it was me the blood was draining out of. It makes me grow faint.
‘No good turning your nose up. You’ll get to like the taste sooner or later.’
‘I hope so, Gran.’
It may sound odd for someone like me to address this femme fatale impertinently as Grandmother. However, for one thing it is a fact that we were family and for another Grandma already had more than thirty-three names, none of which she was particularly attached to, while her grandmotherhood was permanent, like the stars in the sky. And for another thing, I always got confused about whether at any particular time she was being Lilith, Lamia or Empusa.
‘Look at me. Don’t I look terrific?’ Grandma forced me to look her in the face. Her lips were still damp and swollen. ‘That’s from the regular consumption of fresh blood. It’s packed with iron and minerals. And now just take a look at yourself,’ she went on. ‘Your hair is falling out and tired, you’re thin as a rake, and that makes your nose stick out of your face even more.’
I turned my head away, repelled by the sight of the bloody mouth. Grandma caught my glance and looked deep into my eyes.
‘You must suck out their blood before they suck out yours.’
That was scary. I went off to make some hot chocolate, wondering who I was to consider as the general subject of that sentence as I measured out the chocolate and the sugar. That’s the kind of thing I drink, as I am still alive. Grandma has been among the living dead for at least two hundred years, so everything she eats tastes like sawdust to her, except for human blood, of course, which is truly flavoursome.
I sat down on my bed, mug in hand. From the window of my small attic room I could see the bare trees bathed by the light of the rising sun. For this nation the City Park in Pest commemorates the most glorious days of its history. Here, in 1896, the Hungarians celebrated what some scholars said was the thousand-year anniversary of the arrival of their ancestors in their present-day homeland (the exact month and day they’ve still not managed to work out).
And then they fecerunt magnum áldomás, had a huge blow-out, as some chronicle or other said. Or was that not in 896? I was always bad at Hungarian history but as a child I was very much taken with the story of the seven Magyar chieftains commingling their blood in a goblet and drinking to seal their alliance. During my years in the wilderness, when I was trying to find myself, it was ample justification to me that my family’s activities in this country were not without precedent. Pretty much nothing can happen without tradition of some kind.
But in this country there is always something to celebrate. The climate is excellent. It’s cold in winter and hot in summer. In the autumn it rains and in the spring the weather is unpredictable. This is something I’ve considered carefully: in my opinion the only thing it lacks is the sea, which would boost the economy through tourism, make for cheaper squid, and enable Hungarian yachtsmen to reach the top rankings in international competitions. On the other hand, it would be annoying if the fig trees were to blossom like mad, twice a year.
Although these Finno-Ugrian people did not fight back with appropriate militancy when they were pincered by aggressive Slavonic and Germanic hordes, Hungary now occupies one of the prime locations in the region. It has wheat with a high gluten content, fructose-rich fruit, wild steeds roam its plains, and fat Hungarian hogs and cattle feed on the mirage-haunted Puszta. Actually, I have yet to see that Fata Morgana but I’m not bothered. Anyhow, the climate is very good for agriculture; this is a rich land.
Grandma had lived in the area around City Park before, at the time of the millennial celebrations, and a number of her unforgettable blood-sucking memories were closely bound up with the Old Buda Castle nightclub. So when she returned to Hungary on the occasion of one of the country’s National Deaths – I can’t now remember which – she was unwilling to lodge anywhere but her old haunts around the park. As for the choice of city, she didn’t hesitate for a moment: in this country there’s no point living anywhere but the capital, Budapest. I really don’t understand what the other eight million Hungarians are doing down there in the countryside. I’ve never been beyond Budapest’s city limits, or at least not further than the airport, but to my mind those country folks must surely all be wallowing around in the mud and dreaming of one day moving up to the Hungarian metropolis.
So, giving the lie to those vaunted vampire legends, we don’t live in some ruined castle. These days even vampires try to find sensible solutions and who wants to spend a fortune on gas, water and electricity? The house where we have a top floor flat has every modern convenience and is in excellent condition, thanks to the house representative’s contacts and string-pulling. The plaster is not peeling off, the walls are not covered in saltpetre and the balconies don’t need shoring up from the outside.