By Roland Topor (Orion Press; 1969)
Maybe this obscure exercise in European absurdism doesn’t belong in a horror book review, but it does contain generous helpings of mutilation, cannibalism and demonic possession. Beginning like the most ludicrous SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE sketch ever and concluding with a grand guignol blow out worthy of De Sade, this tale is nothing if not unclassifiable. Whatever it is, it’s most definitely one of the strangest books I’ve ever read, and no surprise, as author Roland Topor was/is a close associate of wacky cult figures like Alejandro Jodorowski and Fernando Arrabal. Topor also co-scripted the bizarre sci fi cartoon FANTASTIC PLANET and provided the source novel for Roman Polanski’s whacked-out classic THE TENANT.
Joko is a working stiff who on his way to work one morning has an old man jump onto his back. Joko manages to shake the geezer off, but it seems quite a few other folks want back rides; furthermore, once he gets to work he finds that his co-workers have entered into the back-ride business themselves. Joko decides to join in and soon he’s making a good income ferrying people around on his back; even better, one of those people is a hot chick who isn’t shy about exchanging sexual favors for back rides. One day, however, Joko develops a strange infection that causes his fare of the day to stick to him.
Whatever it is that Joko has, it’s obviously extremely virulent, as six more people become unwittingly stuck to his back. All of Joko’s newfound companions, it seems, are rude, obnoxious, selfish and murderous individuals who act out their frustrations by complaining bitterly, brutalizing Joko and then dismembering his two sisters. Joko’s parents retaliate with equal ferocity, leaving everyone dead but Joko. It turns out, however, that his problems are only beginning, as now the souls of his companions are loose within him, and use aren’t shy about using his body to act out all manner of depraved acts.
Like I said, this is a VERY weird book, impossible to classify or adequately explain. At a scant 122 pages, it’s more an extended outline than a proper novel, complete with names above dialogue blocks to denote the speaker (which reaches a comedic pitch in the final third, when Joko becomes possessed and so shares credit with the other speakers). One could take this as a Kafkaesque exploration of the human condition or just a sick joke taken too far–either way, it’s a curiously memorable little book, outrageous and repellent in equal measure. I’ll refrain from pondering Topor’s motives in writing it or its overriding “meaning”. Suffice it to say that the author, in the manner of many fellow surrealists, seems determined at all costs to provoke a reaction from the reader, and in that he definitely succeeds.