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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The True Actor

Jacinto Lucas Pires

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To purchase The True Actor

Title: The True Actor
Author: Jacinto Lucas Pires
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 153 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: The True Actor - US
The True Actor - UK
The True Actor - Canada
The True Actor - India
  • Portuguese title: O verdadeiro ator
  • Translated by Jaime Braz and Dean Thomas Ellis

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Our Assessment:

B : fine small novel of contemporary Portugal

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The title character of The True Actor is Americo Abril. He hasn't had a gig in a while now -- "six months now, nine counting the holidays" -- and spends his time as a stay-at-home dad taking care of baby Joachim while his wife, successful civil servant Joana, "the quintessential modern woman, hardworking and successful", supports the family. In a contemporary Portugal that's trying to dig itself out of the Euro-crisis-hole but has barely managed to change anything the actor fits right in:

     Stuck at home, caring for their son while Joana flies off to "earn a living," Americo is like the country. More or less the same as before.
       Still, Americo's life isn't entirely dull household routine. For one, there are those occasional rendezvous with Carla Bruna, luxury 'escort' to the rich and famous who, for some reason, took a shine to Americo and likes to hop in bed with him every now and then. And, suddenly, there's a film-role offer -- an American production called Being Paul Giamatti (yes, inspired by films such as Being John Malkovich and Synedoche, New York). The basic plot, as the revised version eventually has it, is about Paul Giamatti:
who, due to a glitch, a misunderstanding at a computer store, ends up trapped inside a video game called Being Alive that is exactly the same as his real life. The same, but with one tiny difference: the game does not end with his death. The game ends when he actually becomes Paul Giamatti. That is, when he becomes "himself".
       Of course, becoming 'himself' is one of Americo's problems: without much of a professional life, and unfulfilled by his current domestic role he's trying to figure out who he can be. He has some ideas for theatrical productions, for example, but of course never gets very far with those. Meanwhile, reality conspires to force the issue: the film role is a nice little job, but the murder of Carla upends his life more than he'd like.
       Americo's name is linked with Carla, so all of a sudden he gets all sorts of attention of the sort he'd rather not deal with: from the media, the police -- and Joana. The murder remains a mystery -- though by the end Americo can imagine at least one all too plausible scenario for what went down.
       The True Actor packs in quite a few quirky elements, even aside from the Being Paul Giamatti film and the murder. There's Americo's father, in the 'Happy Rest' home after an accident that led to "personality shifts" in the former professor of cultural anthropology, so that he now doesn't remember who he is (or who his son is, either) -- another case of a person who is not himself. And there are Americo's fun theatrical project ideas, quickly spinning out to extremes -- "A circus comedy ? A poetry reading ? A wordless drama ?".
       Briefly he considers
How about Beckett ?
     A Beckett taken to the limit, a Beckett beyond Beckett, so Beckettian that no one in this ultrapoetic country has ever imagined it.
       But Americo manages little follow-through, here or with most anything else. Americo is in a pretty deep rut -- even finding himself mixed-up in the Carla-case he admits: "He's become tiresome to himself". In the same vein, for a novel with so many quirky ideas bubbling in it, The True Actor remains for the most part strikingly subdued. Even the film, while making for some food for thought, for Americo and for readers, doesn't really stand out much in the steady flow of (limited) action. As such, the novel does reflect the recent Portuguese situation, a country so weighed down by events that there's little that can rouse it to affect great change (so also in the novel, where the brief hopes of political transformation are dashed).
       The True Actor has ingredients -- specifically the film and the murder -- that most authors would use for a loud and over-the-top novel, but Pires manages things differently. It's not entirely anti-climactic (especially in its resolution of the murder-angle) but he clearly feels no need to milk either the film or the crime for all that they could offer.
       It's nicely done in the details, and a pretty good story overall -- a solid, understated read that packs a surprising amount in and captures Americo's (and Portugal's) flailing for purpose and solid ground quite well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 January 2014

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The True Actor: Reviews: Jacinto Lucas Pires:
  • Profile by Richard Simas in the Portuguese American Journal
Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Portuguese author Jacinto Lucas Pires was born in 1974.

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