Queer Weird Fiction: Joe Orton’s Head To Toe, a camp surrealist fantasia

British writer Joe Orton is famous for his blackly comic plays and and for the tragic manner of his death: being bludgeoned to death by his lover with a hammer. He is less well-known for his fiction. He published one novel, Head to Toe, a brilliant piece of Weird Fiction that languishes in obscurity. I say it’s brilliant, but your mileage may vary. The novel is set on the body of a giant being (referred to as an afreet) and concerns the wild adventures experienced by an ordinary schlub who wanders up on the creature’s body, finding that entire societies live there. The humor is Swiftean farce, but the underlying mood is one of Kafkaesque anomie. The text is marred by some archiac misogyny and the plot is episodic. It still manages to be haunting, full of dream logic. In a way, it’s like an adult, very camp and very queer Alice in Wonderland kind of phantasmorgia.

Head to Toe

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