Written in 1964, this book has since been adapted for the eponymous motion picture directed by Roman Polanski in 1976. You will not find this book under the Horror section – yet it’s one of the most blood chilling books I’ve read. Set in suburban Paris, it tells the story of a young man who moves into an apartment which is being rented by a young lady who lies dying in hospital. It is assumed she will die which indeed she does. The young man, Trelkovsky is subsumed surreptitiously into a Kafka-meets-Camus world where slowly and bizarrely, his identity and very sense of self melts and morphs into that of another. The pillars of the law and medicine are off no help to the helpless Trelkovsky as he vainly battles to keep himself sane within what is a self contained world of pettiness, spite, lies and illusion ; veritable webs that are woven slowly all around him that both trap and entice him.
Horror and existentialism aside, the book does give a little glimpse into the socio economic world of France and perhaps most of western Europe. The apartment block is owned by one man. We always hear about how our continental neighbours rent and not have the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic obsession with home ownership. Yes, someone up the chain owns the title deeds and it seems they’re all in the hands of a few. Also, the characters we meet do not work in what we consider highly paid jobs yet they can afford to rent their own apartments and believe me, the French know how to build apartments. They’re not the jerry-built lego-meets-studwall-flimsiness we know and loathe in UK/Ireland. They’re the real solid deal. They’re like solid one-level houses that live in the air. Also, everyone seems to afford to eat out all the time. Renter do seem to have better protection and rights that they do in the UK/Ireland however – all except for our hero Trelkovsky who really could have done with some legal and paranormal advice but alas, he sacrificed himself for our own yen to be chilled in that evergreen ‘thank feck that not’s me, my life isn’t bad after all’ school of why-we-like-to-be-scared.
• The Tenant, translated by Francis K. Price, Centipede Press, 2010, ISBN 9781933618074