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Book of the week: Head-to-Toe Portrait of Suzanne by Roland Topor

Head-to-Toe Portrait of Suzanne, first published in France as Portrait en pied de Suzanne, is the first Roland Topor book to be translated in English. The works of the French author and artist, who died 20 years ago, are currently undergoing a major reassessment in his homeland. Major exhibitions have been mounted and all his books are being brought back into print. This is the first of them to be translated into English for some 50 years, and more will certainly follow.

The novel, written and illustrated by Topor and initially published in 1978, is perhaps a fable, perhaps a love story of enormous tenderness, or it may be a sequence of ever more sinister events that culminate in horror and atrocity. It all depends on your point of view. This first-person narrative recounts the complexity of a relationship in which love is combined to hate.

Topor’s works are dominated by a sense of irrational everyday menace that could be interpreted as humour, but a form of humour pushed deep into discomfort, almost to the point of total horror. The reader slowly becomes aware that, alongside preoccupations that some might think morbid, all is being orchestrated by a distinctively optimistic sensibility. From the collision of these factors, rooted in the author’s experiences and his irrepressible personality, come works increasingly seen as unique in European art and writing of the late twentieth century.

Head-to-Toe Portrait of Suzanne was translated into English by Andrew Hodgson, and published by Atlas Press.


Roland Topor was known for his paintings and drawings as much as for his novels (The Tenant was filmed by Polanski), plays and short stories. He also joined the creative team for the Hara-Kiri French satyrical magazine. He was also a film-maker, actor and the co-founder, with Arrabal and Jodorowsky, of the Panic movement, whose violently orgiastic performances provoked widespread condemnation.

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