Book of the Month: Self Portraits

Lauded by Susan Sontag as ‘a valiant writer whose work honors literature’, Frederic Tuten is a recently revisited favourite of mine in the form of his ‘Self-Portraits: Fictions’, which was given to me earlier this month. He is best known for ‘Tintin in the New World’ which is characteristic of an oeuvre studded with Borgesian, Conradian and Proustian influences and edged with mystical realism. Published in 2010, ‘Self-Portraits’ brings these same influences together in a series of interrelated stories that offer as much enjoyment as narratorial ingenuity. Cross references and allusions are frequent but lightly spun across trajectories that wind out of control and back again.

Not dissimilar to the premise of this website’s ‘Writing Health‘ section, Tuten’s self-portraits contour lives and experiences through words in an attempt to hold them up to a readerly, or spectator’s gaze. Although not directly claiming to pertain to health, global citizens and readers will relish the thread through tales in which  a young boy barters with pirates for his grandmother’s soul; Death appears as a genial waiter in a bar across from the Metropolitan museum; a lonely man lectures circus bears on the history of art; miniature glaciers tumble from a refrigerator in an East Village apartment, heralding a voyage to Antarctica on a frozen schooner anchored in Tompkins Square Park with two lovers reappearing time and again in new guises, through new voices and in new places.

Reading as escapism is true of all of Tuten, but especially of this work. Writing at the close of the Prologue, he muses ‘Stories. Like air, like food, like hope. I read them, I told them, and later, I wrote them, stories about men and women seeking the faraway in revolutions, in art, and in the dreamy search for love’. I can offer no better invitation into another world.


Image Credit: Tournesols, A. Bow-Bertrand

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