"Anonymous Celebrity" by Ignacio de Loyola Brandao [BTBA 2010 Fiction Longlist]
Anonymous Celebrity by Ignacio de Loyola Brandao. Translated from the Portuguese by Nelson H. Vieira. (Brazil, Dalkey Archive)
When I picked up Anonymous Celebrity over the summer, I fell in love from the first page. I was already a huge fan of Brandao’s from the time when I was at Dalkey and we reprinted Zero, but I think this might be an even better book.
Centered around an unreliable narrator obsessed with the idea of becoming famous, Anonymous Celebrity reads more like a scrapbook than a novel, teaming with information and jokes, switching tone on every page, forcing the reader to come to terms with the manic, slightly unhinged mind behind it all. And by “slightly unhinged,” I mean willing to murder the “Lead Actor”—who supposedly looks just like our narrator—so that he can take over all of L.A.‘s roles.
All the various sections, such as the “Rescuing the Anonymous” bits to draw attention to the nearly-famous (like Marli Renfro, who served as Janet Leigh’s body double in Psycho, or the unknown friends present in a photograph of Hemingway) are brilliant. The manuals for how to be famous and the gallery of characters extremely fun. But it’s obvious as you move through this book that there’s something going on underneath to decipher. The entire narrative is steeped in lies and delusions, constructing a wonderful game for the reader to puzzle through. All is clarified by the end (maybe a bit overclarified), but along the way the writing is brilliant, the posturing and the bittersweet appeal of celebrity is palpable. Rather than go on and on, I suggest reading the full review I wrote earlier this summer and checking out this long quote that captures the energy of the book:
GODDAMMITT! 24 HOURS WITH A FAN?
The network forces all its stars to go on TV and promote all sorts of crap on women’s talk shows if we have a free morning. Those shows don’t really attract big audiences, but they sell dozens of new products every day—nobody even knows where they all come from. Vitamins, impotence cures, salves for herniated disks, hemorrhoids, and bursitis, remedies for high blood pressure, depression, gastritis, muscle pains, obesity, anorexia, bad breath, gas, sinusitis, mycosis, inflammation of the testicles, yeast infections, hangnails, ingrown toenails, parasites, rheumatism, indigestion, erysipelas, impetigo, shingles. Being a shill earns me next to nothing, but the network rakes it in.
This week, however, my duty is to spend twenty-four hours with a fan who won a day with me thanks to a contest that was held for the studio audience of one of these talk shows—bussed in to applaud our cheerful celebrity endorsements.
I have no choice. It’s part of my contract.
She’s going to be positioned in my home so as to best witness my waking up, stretching, pretending to smoke my first cigarette (everyone thinks I’m so unhealthy, so contemptuous of health trends, and I have to keep the myth alive), getting up, brushing my teeth, taking a shit, having breakfast, going to the studio, memorizing my lines, putting on my make-up. Maybe she’ll even watch me having a quickie behind the scenery with some needy starlet, make-up artists, or costumer—once I even had a cleaning lady; there are some really hot lower-class girls around if you know where to look. I hope she likes the idea. That would be exciting.
She’ll stand there with her mouth wide open watching me perform, taking a little break, yelling at some fellow actor who’s not setting the right comedic or dramatic tone, yelling at the lighting people, slamming the door in some reporter’s face.
She’s going to watch me running to the bar, having a shot of scotch, then a dark beer, then some grappa, port wine, a few shots of the Havana firewater (the sugarcane booze from Minas that costs around seventy-five dollars per bottle). Then I’m going to bring her to my dressing room: Room 101. Two contiguous rooms, as the building plans say, well-appointed (All Sig Bergamin or Chico Gouvea designs).
She won’t forget this day in a hurry.
I’ll be a cherished memory until she dies.