Thomas Ligotti, in the introduction to 'The Tenant', advocates the idea that Roland Topor resolved the dilemma posed by the central theme of his novel - that identity is only a delusion - while firmly positioned as an 'outsider'. Outsider, as in disenfranchised, excluded, alien. Insiders are allowed to bring tolerable solutions only, whether true or not - the world demands it. The outsider thumbs his nose at what the world wants; his obligation is to tell the truth as he sees it. It's no wonder, then, that 'The Tenant' is a horror story. The world does not nourish an outsider - it attacks him, and while Roland Topor may have been interested in identity and illusion, what he stunningly brought home to me was just how foul the assault on the outsider is.
In 'The Tenant', a young man named Trelkovsky needs a new apartment. As they are scarce in the city, he feels lucky to find one recently vacated - by a female suicide. Once settled, he tries to conform to the building's standards, but right away, his neighbors begin chastising him for the slightest noise. He alters his behavior to placate them, and avoids his friends to keep them from visiting - and making more noise. Weeks later, someone burglarizes his apartment, and steals his personal items. Slowly he becomes a cipher; and the fiends surrounding him conspire to change him into the person they want him to be - a copy of the woman who previously occupied the apartment. Even more sinister, they will continue until he suffers the same end as she.
Trelkovsky divines their scheme and at first he effusively complies, hoping they will be satisfied with the transformation alone. Later, when that fails, he attempts to escape, but fate inexorably returns him to his apartment, where his neighbors eventually bend him to their will. At the last, he witnesses ungodly sights out of his window overlooking the building's courtyard - and whether Topor meant for the hellish spectacle to be real or the result of a hallucinogenic madness, either is equally sufficient to drive Trelkovsky completely over the edge.
On one hand, the reader might find Mr. Topor's commentary ineffective; much like his character Trelkovsky's passionate, shouted expose of his neighbor's designs near the end of the book is also useless. They are both shouting at the world, which already fully realizes its intentions toward these outsiders. However, I believe there is value here, because while I fervently hope never to find myself in Trelkovsky's extreme situation, I must always recognize that it is extremely possible.
For its themes and warnings, 'The Tenant' is excellent, but I would not recommend a steady diet of similar literature, as the implication of the subject matter is simply too bleak for me. That doesn't make it any less true, but overindulgence in such nihilistic and gloomy ideas by an impressionable reader could leave a negative mark. As far as the writing itself, I'd consider it well done except toward the end where there were some awkward transitions - but the power of Mr. Topor's writing is not in his craft but in his ideas.
Aesthetically, Millipede Press did a fantastic job with this edition, which also includes four of Mr. Topor's out-of-print short stories and a sampling of his artwork (I'm no art critic, but elements there remind me of the surreal and absurdist landscapes of Jim Woodring.) I look forward to other obscure titles this small imprint is bringing out, even if, as in 'The Tenant', the contents are grim and the resolution rather discouraging.