The Tenant is Roland Topor's fictional masterpiece. In it, he offers readers one of the most underrated protagonists in the thriller/horror genre, the ultimate outsider's outsider-as Thomas Ligotti correctly puts it in his introduction-the extremist nonconformist: Monsieur Trelkovski. This top-notch 1964 French novel is probably best known to American readers due in large part to Roman Polanski's incredibly close and respectable film adaptation of the same title, which came out in 1976 and also subsequently has gone on to become a classic horror film in its own right, often appearing on film registers and the best of cinematic lists.
Through a very ordinary plot, a powerful message is conveyed. Monsieur Trelkovski is a mild mannered, docile seeker of a new apartment in Paris, a strenuous task, because he is on the cusp of being evicted out of his old one. Through the grapvine, i.e. his co-worker, Simon, he comes across a possible vacancy in a new apartment, due to the fact that one of the tenants-a Ms. Simone Choule-has decided to "off" herself by jumping out of her apartment window. Though she does not die immediately and barely clings to life, Monsieur Trelkovsky takes a grim initative to visit her in the hospital, and in the simplicity of inappropriate desire, he wills for her demise (though it is unspoken) just so he can be the new renter of the "apartment".
Secretly, almost guiltily, wishing ill will for someone is one thing; it is quite another matter when that ill willed intention becomes an irreversible reality, and in the case of Monsieur Trelkovski, it is at this point when his nightmare begins, because it unreservedly showcases the darkness of the human heart and somehow justifies the eye-for-an-eye mental onslaught that he, Monsieur Trelkovski, battles with as the novel progresses. And it does get bizarre.
As he moves in, he is expected to behave in a manner that is in very strict accordance with the rules of the "apartment," which is no noise, women, pets, parties or people, just him in his two room apartment accompanied by his guilty conscience and a deafening silence. As he bends the rules just a tad bit, odd and unexplainable trouble comes along his path. The acts of harassment are palpable, yet the committers of them are unseen and unheard, for they are stealthy and almost invisible. The odd happenings seem to be signals (or so Trelkovski believes) from the tenants-peer pressure-to make him correspond to their way of life. The deeds somehow alter the present-day reality as he knows, sees and feels it. Slowly, very slowly, incrementally, in fact, he gradually tries to discipline himself to the tenant's way of doing things and the "apartment," which, to some extent, has an unusual supernatural energy of its own, due in large part to the suicide of the previous tenant, Simone Choule.
The longer that he dwells on the life and mysterious death of Simone Choule as well as the unmentioned conspiracy that he firmly believes his neighbors have knowingly thrust upon him, his ultimate act of defiance against them happens via the altering of himself, his very presence and complete identity. To go on further would be a plot spoiler, but chapter by chapter on a wider scale here, Topor brings forth the disturbing insights of how to view institutions, "clicks," general matters of authority, "guises" and aspects of corrupt governments; as a writer of clean, detached prose, he widened the sense of seeing and perceiving. Monsieur Trelkovski acts as a sort of flashlight to be used by a wider audience. A great read.