faber

A Curiosity: Actors Anonymous

Well, what can I say about James Franco’s Actors Anonymous (Faber)? Should I say, for a writer, he’s a pretty good actor? Should I say, by many accounts, his prose outshines his poetry? Should I say that this book is an absolute curiosity? Is it real, or unreal, or somewhere in-between?

One thing I will say is that James Franco is a strange bunny. And of course, that’s what makes him fascinating and in turn, what makes this book worth reading.

actors anonymousInspired by Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Actors Anonymous is a dark, genre-bending work that mixes memoir and pure invention – an audacious examination of celebrity, acting, and the making of Fiction.

Actors Anonymous is unsettling, funny, and personal – a series of stories told in many forms: a McDonald’s drive-thru operator who spends his shift trying on accents; an ex-child star recalling a massive beachside bacchanal; hospital volunteers putting a camera in the hands of a patient obsessed with horror films; a vampire flick starlet who discovers a cryptic book written by a famous actor gone AWOL, who may have killed his father.

The book contains profound insights into the nature and purpose of acting, as well as deeply moving portraits of aspiring actors who never quite made it.

Franco mercilessly turns his “James Franco” persona inside out while, at the same time, providing fascinating meditations on his art, along with nightmarish tales of excess. “Hollywood has always been a private club,” he writes. “I open the gates. I say welcome. I say, Look inside.”

I’ll be honest, I didn’t always get what this book was doing. I had to skip bits here and there, parts that I found just a bit too awkward. Still, in the same way that books like The Hottest State by actor Ethan Hawke, and Horse’s Neck by Pete Townshend do, Actors Anonymous gives the reader a glimpse of a new side of a person that you know through a completely different medium.  Interestingly, it’s not the sort of glimpse you get from a memoir or a straight autobiography. Rather, it’s a view of the author’s imagination, and as creative people, this view is usually pretty wild.

Actors Anonymous is a very candid look at Hollywood, at acting and at fame. As I mentioned earlier, it’s really difficult to pin down what’s true to life here, and that can be quite disconcerting. At times I felt embarrassed, almost worried that Franco would be taken to task for exposing something ugly – about himself, about his peers, and about his craft. But then, to my relief, something would happen on the page that was so exaggerated that it’d prove that this story could not possibly be real, and I’d relax. A little.

Now, Franco’s not the best writer. His writing isn’t horrible, but it is a little clunky at times, and a bit self-involved. But, for me, the curiosity factor of this book well and truly makes up for that. It’s entertaining, and as long as you can suspend your disbelief for a little while, quite enjoyable.

If you’re a fan of James Franco, have a fascination for celebrity or just enjoy a quick, quirky read, take a look at Actors Anonymous. You can find out more about the book here…

Do you like straight books, or something a little more on the unusual side? 

Suspend Your Disbelief: Strange Bodies

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s instantly attracted to pretty much anything bearing the name Theroux…

Whether it’s a book like The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux, a documentary by his son Louis, or a novel by author Marcel Theruox, the name is synonymous with quality, compelling storytelling, and more than it’s fair share of quirk.

strange bodiesMarcel’s most recent novel, Strange Bodies (Faber) is the first of his novels that I’ve read and I couldn’t put it down. I wasn’t quite sure where it was taking me, how it was going to pan out, but hey, that’s half the fun of reading isn’t it?

It’s an unusual premise, presented as matter of fact…

Nicholas Slopen has been dead for months. So when a man claiming to be Nicholas turns up to visit an old girlfriend, deception seems the only possible motive.

Yet nothing can make him change his story.

From the secure unit of a notorious psychiatric hospital, he begins to tell his tale: an account of attempted forgery that draws the reader towards an extraordinary truth – a metaphysical conspiracy that lies on the other side of madness and death.

As with most good magic realism, the bizarre is unapologetically posited as as mundane, the reader’s ability to suspend their disbelief is assumed. I find this type of reading really liberating – the requirement for me to relinquish control and go with the flow of the narrative, accepting these facts exactly as they are presented – is a wonderful type of escapism.

The main protagonist, Nicholas is a complex character. He is earnest, honest and hardworking and yet he is somewhat unlikeable in his awkward single-mindedness. Regardless, as I’m sure was intended by the author, I couldn’t help but feel his frustration and despair acutely, as he tries to reconnect with those he loves, both before and after ‘the procedure’…

“In all the startling discomfort of coming to my senses in a new carcass, I don’t recall a more agonising moment than this. All the shame and the pain and the pitying eyes of strangers. My awareness of myself as weak and hopeless. What made it harder was my perception that while I was broken and tearful, Leonora was speaking with a voice of reasoning tenderness. I was the one clinging to a fantasy about our marriage as insane as Roger N’s delusion that Mossad has implanted a radio transmitter in his brain.”

His physical and emotional pain throughout the novel is raw and quite terrifying, yet the book itself remains quite humorous. The comedy is black, obscure and entertaining.

Interestingly too, I learnt a great deal reading this novel. Marcel is obviously incredibly expert in the field of literature and history. His knowledge of the eighteenth century lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson is beyond thorough, and his appreciation for random trivia relating to writers, texts and vintage health conditions is impressive. He had me googling names and references throughout the whole novel and I was fascinated as, page by page, I picked up random facts that I’ll probably never use again, but enjoyed completely.

Strange Bodies is a fascinating book, especially suited to those who love magic realism or who love shameless literary name-dropping (which, as it happens, I do). I’d say, take a look at this literary, science fiction, black comedy, high brow, fantastical novel – you won’t be disappointed.

You can find out more about Marcel Theroux’s novel at the Allen and Unwin website here.