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.
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .