3 February 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over the next thirteen days, we’ll be highlighting a book a day from the Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist. Click here for all past write-ups.



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.

3 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece that I wrote on Ignacio de Loyola Brandao’s Anonymous Celebrity. It’s a great book—one of my favorites of 2009 (so far)—and worth reading (especially if you liked Zero . . . all four hundred of you out there who bought it, that is).

Here’s the beginning of the review:

Ignacio de Loyola Brandao’s fourth book to appear in English, Anonymous Celebrity is most definitely the novel of his most concerned with contemporary issues, and may well be his funniest and richest novel to date. I say this as a big fan of Brandao’s writing (and not just because it’s fun to pronounce his name), in particular Zero, which was my introduction to his odd, unsettled world and was a book that we reprinted during my time at Dalkey Archive Press.

Zero is a complex, dangerous book that tells of the life of its main character through myriad of techniques, styles, typographies, and (occasionally contradictory) storylines. All infused with a great, sick sense of humor, and enough political shit to result in the book being banned by the Brazilian government when it was first published.

Brandao’s fragmented technique (and especially his penchant for dropping crazy over-sized fonts into his text) is employed in both Teeth under the Sun (also Dalkey) and And Still the Earth (currently out-of-print), but not nearly to the same symphonic effect as it is in Zero and now Anonymous Celebrity.

Anonymous Celebrity was first published in Brazil in 2002, and in contrast to his earlier books, Brandao has replaced his concerns about living under an extreme political regime with the idea of how to live in an age of media saturation and an overwhelming obsession with celebrity.

Even prior to the ending (which sort of is a rug pulling bit that would’ve been more effective—in my opinion—if it was a bit more concise and even more devastating), this is a tricksy sort of book narrated by a totally unreliable narrator. Check that: he’s not necessarily “unreliable,” rather, he’s someone obsessed with image, with celebrity, with being famous, being known, and knows that celebrity is based in falsehood, half-truths and contrived settings.

Click here for the full review.

3 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Ignacio de Loyola Brandao’s fourth book to appear in English, Anonymous Celebrity is most definitely the novel of his most concerned with contemporary issues, and may well be his funniest and richest novel to date. I say this as a big fan of Brandao’s writing (and not just because it’s fun to pronounce his name), in particular Zero, which was my introduction to his odd, unsettled world and was a book that we reprinted during my time at Dalkey Archive Press.

Zero is a complex, dangerous book that tells of the life of its main character through myriad of techniques, styles, typographies, and (occasionally contradictory) storylines. All infused with a great, sick sense of humor, and enough political shit to result in the book being banned by the Brazilian government when it was first published.

Brandao’s fragmented technique (and especially his penchant for dropping crazy over-sized fonts into his text) is employed in both Teeth under the Sun (also Dalkey) and And Still the Earth (currently out-of-print), but not nearly to the same symphonic effect as it is in Zero and now Anonymous Celebrity.

Anonymous Celebrity was first published in Brazil in 2002, and in contrast to his earlier books, Brandao has replaced his concerns about living under an extreme political regime with the idea of how to live in an age of media saturation and an overwhelming obsession with celebrity.

Even prior to the ending (which sort of is a rug pulling bit that would’ve been more effective—in my opinion—if it was a bit more concise and even more devastating), this is a tricksy sort of book narrated by a totally unreliable narrator. Check that: he’s not necessarily “unreliable,” rather, he’s someone obsessed with image, with celebrity, with being famous, being known, and knows that celebrity is based in falsehood, half-truths and contrived settings. For instance, here’s a short bit from the section “List of Essential Consultants to the Famous,” which starts off reasonably enough (Secretary, Agent, Lawyer), then becomes more fun:

Consultant on Lying. Specifically about my life. Someone who composes lies about me to be divulged to the media. Completely different than a press agent. For instance: I was a street kid and only learned to read when I was sixteen. At eighteen, at night, I performed at intersections doing acrobatics with lit torches, collecting money from interested or sympathetic drivers. One night, hungry and hurt by her refusal, I shoved one of my torches into a whore’s face. My father never acknowledged my paternity. They say the great Portuguese novelist Eca de Querios—whose novel The Maias was turned into a miniseries—was a bastard too. Comparing me to Eca is a great idea! A literary giant. I should probably read one of his books.

And then Drivers. I’m going to need three, working in shifts, given the intensity of my life. The night driver will suffer the most—he’ll have to carry me when I fall down dead drunk or faint from mixing Red Bull and ecstasy—I’m less and less in control. Though I quit the heavy drugs a long time ago. I’m clean.

Clean, on ecstasy, a street kid, and willing to accept any sponsorship—whatever it takes to be famous. Some of the great humor of the book comes from the narrator’s advice on how to become a celebrity, usually related in Rabelaisian-like lists that wax manic, starting from a recognizable place before slipping into the absurd.

Amid these lists upon lists of things to say to the press, ways to get yourself in photographs, how to be sponsored every day of the month, etc., there is a fairly compelling storyline involving the narrator’s desire to off “Lead Actor,” aka LA, aka the actor who looks almost identical to our (un)trustworthy narrator and is the reason our narrator isn’t as famous as he could be. But if the LA was dead, then our narrator could easily slip into all of his roles and achieve an even greater celebrity . . .

This plot doubles back on itself, slides in and out of reality (like almost everything else in the book), and is upended entirely in the end, but it does serve as a sort of MacGuffin on which to hang all the various threads that comprise this book, one of the best of which is the “Rescuing the Anonymous” sections that recognize those who brushed up against a moment of celebrity, but didn’t get to take full advantage. Like Marli Renfro, who served as Janet Leigh’s body double in Psycho, or the unknown friends present in a photograph of Hemingway.

In many ways, Anonymous Celebrity reads like a looseleaf collection of fragments from the mind of a potentially insane, definitely obsessed man. The prose is snappy (thanks in part to Nelson Vieira’s translation) and buzzes, with each section revealing a different facet of his obsession/insanity. And taken in bits, this is an incredibly fun, incredibly varied read. And out of the layered piles of ideas and lists, conspiracies and obsessions, something pretty amazing emerges. Definitely worth checking out.

....
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