Tag Archives: Atlas Press

‘Head-to-Toe Portrait of Suzanne’ by Roland Topor (#ReadIndies – Atlas Press)

Image source: Publisher’s website

After my recent reading of Roland Topor’s The Tenant I thought I’d seek out what other books by Topor are available in English—there’s not much apparently. There’s Joko’s Anniversary, which was written in 1969, translated in 1970 and published by Marion Boyars (and may be another Read Indies read if I can get my act together) and there is Head-to-Toe Portrait of Suzanne, originally published in 1978 as Portrait en pied de Suzanne, translated by Andrew Hodgson, and published by Atlas Press in 2018. I think there is a play and a rare collection of stories as well, but there’s not much else that is readily available in English. A full list of publications can be found on the French Wikipedia site for anyone who’s interested.

Head-to-Toe Portrait of Suzanne is a short work, about sixty pages long in this edition, and illustrated by Topor himself. It also has an introduction by the translator, Andrew Hodgson. Like Trelkovsky in The Tenant the narrator of ‘Suzanne’ is a loner, adrift from society. The narrator is a large man, with a huge appetite, he’s from Paris but he now lives in an Eastern European city called Caracas (not Venezuela), but he doesn’t speak the language and no-one speaks French. He spends his days wandering around sketching the decaying buildings. But he’s hungry…always hungry (I’d take a lack of God over a lack of food any day.), and he’s disgusted by his own body.

I pace up and down from one wall to the other talking to myself like a patient in a mental hospital. That naked body I catch sight of every time I pass the mirror makes me feel like throwing up. The grey flesh with its covering of black hairs somehow attracts me and disgusts me at the same time.

But things get worse when he goes out during the night trying to find somewhere where he can get something to eat. Because of the language problems he ends up at some sort of late night shoe shop and after making an ass of himself he buys a new pair of shoes out of embarrassment. He throws his old ones away and walks home, but the shoes are too small and they rip his feet apart. By the time he gets home there is a gaping wound on his left foot and blood everywhere. And, of course, he’s still hungry because he didn’t get any food when he went out.

And now things start to get a bit weird as ‘Topor the Surrealist’ starts to have some fun with his creation. The narrator flips between feeling sorry for himself and angry at the world. At times he feels feverish and wonders if he has an infection, so he goes to a pharmacy to see if they have anything that can help. When the pharmacist rubs some ointment into his wound he begins to feel an intense pleasure. Later, when he’s at home the thought comes to him that his foot is Suzanne, his old girlfriend.

By all accounts, my left foot has something very feminine about it. It’s curvy, like Suzanne. The flesh is milky, and the skin is delicate just like the skin on Suzanne’s temples, with the veins clearly marked in blue. The nails are pearly, the toes long and dainty like fingers. The instep has none of the unattractiveness so evident in other parts of my body. It has an elegance shared only with Suzanne.

My left foot is the best part of me.
It’s Suzanne.

But, as there are ups and downs with any couple, so there are with the narrator and Suzanne. And love can be difficult when you hurt your back when you try to kiss.

So, Topor’s mixture of alienation and surreal humour may not be to everyone’s taste but I really enjoy this strange mixture—a bit like Kafka, Beckett or The League of Gentlemen — dark, strange and funny.

From now on, I shall only have eyes for my right foot!

Head-to-Toe Portrait of Suzanne (Atlas Press) was read as part of Read Indies 2021.

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Filed under Fiction, Topor, Roland