The narrator in Jean-Luc Benoziglio’s Privy Portrait has fallen on hard times. His wife and young daughter have abandoned him, he has no work or prospects, he’s blind in one eye, and he must move into a horribly tiny apartment with his only possession: a twenty-five-volume encyclopedia. His neighbors, the Shritzkys, are vulgar, narrow-minded, and racist. And because he has no space for his encyclopedia in his cramped room, he stores it in the communal bathroom, and this becomes a major point of contention with his neighbors. The bathroom is also the only place he can find refuge from the Shritzkys’ blaring television, and he barricades himself in it to read his encyclopedia, much to the chagrin of the rest of the residents of the building.
Darkly amusing, Privy Portrait is the monologue of a man, disoriented by the gaping void of not knowing his own nationality, recounting the final remnants of his own sanity and his life. In this buffoonish, even grotesque, yet deeply pitiful man, Benoziglio explores, with a light yet profound touch, weighty themes such as the roles of family, history, one’s moral responsibility towards others, and the fragility of personal identity.
Finalist for the 28th Annual French-American Foundation Translation Prize.
‘A darkly comic story [. . .] It is dialogue, daydream, recalled events, and caustic self-assessment that fuel the prose.’ —On the Seawall
‘There’s considerable comic relief in Privy Portrait, as the narrator recounts his sadly amusing efforts to get by and find his place—not very good efforts, which are marked by missteps and bad decisions all along the way. The humor leavens and distracts from what’s an otherwise very dark tale, a mix Benoziglio manages quite well, helped by his sharp, wry writing which Lewis captures nicely in her translation.’ —Complete Review
‘In a plot that artfully flits between past and present, Benoziglio (1941-2013) combines joyfully bleak introspection, lively dialogues (or shouting matches), troubling nightmares, absurd or sordid mini-events, oblique yet telling flashbacks, funny asides about writing, and inserted passages taken from the encyclopedia volumes perused by the narrator in the common toilet used by him and other tenants in a Parisian apartment building.’ —John Taylor, Arts Fuse
‘The Benoziglian language, the Benoziglian universe with its bitter, buffoonish, Chaplinesque folly and its shaggy, swaggering, obstinate way—both comical and tragic—of going through life and writing about it.’ —Le Nouvel Observateur
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