Head to Toe
Gombold, the intrepid protagonist of Joe Orton’s HEAD TO TOE, has strayed-- one does not quite discover how--into a landscape as absurd, grotesque, and violent as one encounters in fever dreams. He and every other sentient being around him is on the body of a colossus rumored to be hundreds of miles high. Like Gombold, the parasites living on this huge being seem to lack all rationality, morality, or common sense. Characters come together to wage war on a large scale--Gombold soon finds himself literally and figuratively sucked into a severe war between the being’s left and right buttocks--and they also perpetrate more private atrocities--Gombold is brutalized by a grotesque bully of a woman who makes him her “wife.” His first act after escaping from her clutches is to assassinate, without quite knowing why, a decidedly silly female prime minister whose major concern is regulating skirt lengths.
Gombold eventually travels the length of the giant, visits several natural wonders, teams up with some characters who turn out to be as nasty as they are stupid, and finally, after the giant host dies, climbs into a hole, at which point the novel ends.
The reader, too, is left in a hole. In its favor, HEAD TO TOE has a number of comical episodes and satiric caricatures, as well as some witty dialogue. Yet what can it mean? Is this meant to be a metaphor for life? Is human existence even at its worst as absurd as all that? Perhaps the book says more about the author’s own circumstances than about anything else. More probably, it was a playful attempt that the author never meant to publish. An alternate title, “Over My Dead Body,” might have been more appropriate.