Rupert: A Confession by Dutch author Ilja Leonard Pfeiffer is an unfortunate exploration in the first person of the psychoses of a porn-obsessed voyeur with troubling rape fantasies and delusions of grandeur. The book is organized into a monologue delivered over the course of three hearings as Rupert attempts to defend himself in court against the accusation he committed a crime (we only learn the crime in the last pages of the book.) The premise is an interesting one, one that kept me reading to the end of the book. Despite this, Rupert's pompous tone and narcissism were difficult to read; it was exactly the kind of person I am least interested in hearing from: a misogynistic, self-obsessed man prone to repition and longwindedness. At times, it felt like listening to sick, secret thoughts of a rightwing talk radio host. Most of the book is devoted to Rupert's lonely wanderings around the city as he stalks women or derides them silently to himself in bars and cafes. Not only is this material really depressing and gross, it also seemed like the kind of vicious misogyny I've seen and read so many times before in movies and books.
Publishers Weekly called this book "a deliberate provocation" and even the promotional material from Open Letter says the book is "offensive." No doubt, I do not think all literature needs to be uplifting or inspirational; I like dark and disturbing as well. I also think literature should question established norms, including the confines of leftist doctrine about what is "right" and "good." However, this book seemed to provoke for no real reason other than to make obvious something that I already knew: men can be sick and cruel, arrogant and self-centered. The book made all of this disgustingly clear. Perhaps some would find something exceptional in the prose (which seemed well translated by Michele Hutchinson) but while it was captivating, the language itself wasn't enough to mask the essential vacuousness and insanity of the main character.
I should mention here that I am a dedicated fan of Open Letter, the publisher of Rupert: A Confession. I support their mission of publishing and disseminating literature from around the world in English translation.
Despite all this and especially after reading Rupert, I have to wonder if it isn't time for Open Letter (now in its second year of publishing) to provide its readers with a few more books from outside of Europe (and by non-Euro women!). The only non-European books (all by men) offered by Open Letter are by Rubem Fonseca of Brazil, Macedonio Fernández of Argentina and Jorge Volpi of Mexico (and his book seems to be set in Russia and other northern climes). As far as forthcoming titles, there will be three more one author from Argentina, Juan José Saer. Now, I definitely understand that the press is young and new, but I do hope in the future to read translations from other languages and other continents. If the mission of the press is to "open cultural borders," I'd hope the fluid and cultural borderlines demarcating the "European" tradition from the rest of the world would also be crossed.
And for now, a moratorium on self-centered, psychotic European men.