Privy Portrait, Jean-Luc Benoziglio
By Jean-Luc Benoziglio
Seagull Books, 2014
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.
“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.”
On the Seawall
“A lively translation by Tess Lewis, Privy Portrait . . . is a darkly comic story. . . . It is dialogue, daydream, recalled events, and caustic self-assessment that fuel the prose.”
“Tess Lewis has provided an invigorating translation that captures the amusingly colliding layers of diction in the French prose.”
Jean-Luc Benoziglio, Privy Portrait