Monthly Archives: April 2023

A week of creepy wonders

Cover of Valerie and her week of wonders, with an illustration of a body in old-fashioned clothing without a head

Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders by Vítězslav Nezval

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders is an unsettling fairy tale, mixing the dark, creepy elements of Gothic novels like The Monk with dream-like surrealism. It was written by Czechoslovakian author Vítězslav Nezval in 1935, and is probably best known as the basis for the 1970 Czech New Wave film directed by Jaromil Jireš. I loved the dreamy, atmospheric film and so came to the novel to read the source material.

The tone of the film came right from the book. Valerie, at the onset of her first period at the age of 17, becomes involved in a heady mix of vampires, magic, and social mores that she barely understands. The bizarre, twisted story, where no one is as they seem, is an allegory for her awakening sexuality and the confusing world of adulthood. A stranger who professes his love for Valerie may or may not be her twin brother; an evil magician with a polecat’s face, who might be her father, is trying to steal her vitality; her grandmother is planning to sacrifice Valerie in a plot to restore her youth. There’s a secret crypt in the house, a burning at the stake, a pill that turns her into a pillar of smoke, and so on.

This all isn’t supposed to make sense so much as give you the feeling of alluring menace that the adult world holds for Valerie, and I think it succeeds on that level. It reminded me of Angela Carter‘s The Bloody Chamber and other adult tales, which she and Neil Jordan adapted into the wonderful film The Company of Wolves. To the modern sensibility, the mystery around menarche and sexuality seems quaint, and the suggestions of incest are uncomfortable. On the whole, though, if you keep in mind that this was written almost 90 years ago, this wildly imaginative novel is remarkable in many ways.