The Mystery Guest: An Account

The Mystery Guest: An Account

by Grégoire Bouillier
     
 

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When the phone rang on a gloomy fall afternoon in 1990, Grégoire Bouillier had no way of knowing that it was the woman who'd left him, without warning, ten years before. And he couldn't have guessed why she was calling—not to apologize for, or explain, the way she'd vanished from his life, but to invite him to a party. A birthday party. For a woman he'd

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Overview

When the phone rang on a gloomy fall afternoon in 1990, Grégoire Bouillier had no way of knowing that it was the woman who'd left him, without warning, ten years before. And he couldn't have guessed why she was calling—not to apologize for, or explain, the way she'd vanished from his life, but to invite him to a party. A birthday party. For a woman he'd never met.

This is the story of how one man got over a broken heart, learned to love again, stopped wearing turtlenecks, regained his faith in literature, participated in a work of performance art by mistake, and spent his rent money on a bottle of 1964 bordeaux that nobody ever drank. The Mystery Guest is, in the words of L'Humanité, a work of "fiendish wit and refinement." It pushes the conventions of autobiography (and those great themes of French literature: love and aging) to an absurd, poignant, and very funny conclusion. This translation marks the English-language debut of an iconoclast who has attracted one of the most passionate cult followings in French literature today.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this slim and lyrical memoir, French writer Bouillier tells of the moment when he received a phone call in his Paris apartment in the fall of 1990 ("It was the day Michel Leiris died"). Bouillier was 30 years old and asleep in all his clothes, and it had been years since the unnamed woman on the other end of the line had left him "without a word... the way they abandon dogs when summer comes." Rather than calling to reconnect or explain, she called to invite him to a party, several weeks hence, at the artist Sophie Calle's apartment, where he was to serve as the "Mystery Guest." What Bouillier (his untranslated Rapport sur moi won the Prix de Flore in 2002) makes of this simple setup is pure Gallic magic- a mix of hapless obsession, sophisticated abstraction, unearned righteousness and hyperarticulate self-doubt-as he tries to guess the woman's motivations and get a hold of his own feelings. The book's four short parts (beautifully rendered by Stein)-phone call, preparation, party and aftermath-are small miracles of Montaigne-like self-exploration. Reading as Bouillier moves through the light and dark of love, through its forms of "maniacal sublimation" and through its mystery, is arresting. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Receiving a phone call out of the blue from a lover who abandoned you years earlier would be puzzling and bewildering if not outright unsettling to most. Prize-winning French writer Bouillier couldn't have guessed that his ex-girlfriend was going to invite him to a birthday party for another woman he had never met and to serve as the mystery guest. All this may sound rather bizarre, but that's how most events are in this arresting example of quasiautobiography. After pondering the caller's motivations and getting a hold of his own feelings, the author accepts the invitation, propelling himself into a new direction in his love life. This compact memoir is Bouillier's second work, his first in English translation. It offers, in four parts, fun-to-read samplings of popular themes and styles of contemporary French literature. Recommended for all literary collections and large public and academic libraries. Ali Houissa, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A skillful blurring of art and reality is achieved in French author Bouillier's beguilingly spare "account" of recovery from a romantic heartbreak. A sudden call from a lover who left him abruptly years before lurches the narrator of this fiction-cum-memoir from a state of cold paralysis into preparation for battle. The vanished girlfriend resurfaces to invite the narrator to the birthday party of her husband's best friend, artist Sophie Calle, who always invites a "mystery guest" to represent the year to come, and which the narrator has been designated. This blast from the past strikes the still emotionally raw narrator, caught napping and vulnerable in the afternoon, as a way to finally "cut the leash" that tied him to the former girlfriend's inexplicable vanishing-and achieve at last a sense of redemption. The weeks before the big night plunge the narrator back into the hellish despair of having to think about the former lover constantly, conveyed in self-aggrandizing, hilarious reflections on matters such as the ridiculous turtlenecks he has taken to wearing as a kind of Band-Aid. He obsesses over signs of fate, coincidences, "a force seeking some means of self-expression," such as the orbiting of the Ulysses space probe, in order to make sense of the former girlfriend's reappearance in his life. Determined not to be the laughingstock of the party, he decides on the perfect gift to bring: a bottle of vintage Margaux well beyond his means. And on the night of Reckoning, when he nervously, warily presents himself, his now-married and very lovely former girlfriend informs him that the hostess, Sophie, never opens her presents, rather she displays them. In fact, meeting thegirlfriend again does not elucidate anything for the narrator except in her whispered parting words about the bouquet of cut roses-straight from Mrs. Dalloway-which then lifts his battered heart into the divine, redemptive realm of literature. The deceptively effortless translation by Stein renders this a treasure at once absurd and heartbreaking.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429935678
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
08/22/2006
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
128
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt


Excerpted from The Mystery Guest by Grégoire Bouillier. Copyright © 2006 by Grégoire Bouillier. Published in August 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

It was the day Michel Leiris died. This would have been late September 1990, or maybe the very beginning of October, the date escapes me (whatever it was I can always look it up later on); in any case it was a Sunday, because I was home in the middle of the afternoon, and it was cold out, and I'd gone to sleep in all my clothes, wrapped up in a blanket, the way I generally did when I was home by myself. Cold and oblivion were all I was looking for at the time, but this didn't worry me. Sooner or later, I knew, I'd rejoin the world of the living. Just not yet. I felt I had seen enough. Beings, things, landscapes…I had enough to last me for the next two hundred years and saw no reason to go hunting for new material. I didn't want any more trouble.

* * *

I woke to the ringing of the phone. Darkness had fallen in the room. When I picked up I knew it was her. Even before I was conscious of knowing, I knew. It was her voice, her breath, it was practically her face, and along with her face came a thousand moments of happiness rising from the past, gilded with sunlight, caressing my own face and licking at my fingers while a thousand more like them swung at the other end of a wire.
* * *

I sat up in bed, heart pounding in my chest. I actually heard this going on, this unnatural pounding, as if my heart were electrified. I heard it thudding in every corner of the room--and this was no illusion, I wasn't dreaming, there wasn't any question of its being anyone but her. The senses don't lie, unlikely as it was to be hearing her voice now, after all the years I'd never heard from her, ever, not once. How appropriate flashed through my mind. And on the exact same day Michel Leiris died was my next thought, and the coincidence struck me as so outlandish it was all I could do to keep from laughing. I felt as if I'd tapped in to the inner hilarity of things, or else brushed up against a truth so over-whelming only a fit of hysterics could keep it at bay; but maybe it wasn't a coincidence at all. Maybe she wouldn't have called, it occurred to me, if Michel Leiris hadn't died. Of course that's what had happened: she'd heard about Michel Leiris and somehow the fact of his disappearance had made her reappear. However obscurely the one fact figured in the other, I sensed a connection. The significance of a dream, we're told, has less to do with its overt drama than with the details; a long time ago it struck me that the same was true of real life, of what passes among us for real life.
* * *

But this was no time for a philosophical discussion, and besides, I wasn't in any shape to bandy wits. I could hear how soft and gummy my voice was, how drowsy-sounding, and without even giving it any thought I realized that she must under no circumstance be allowed to know she'd woken me up. That was crucial, even if it meant sounding cold and detached--and why on earth did she have to call, not just on the very same day Michel Leiris had died but when I was fast asleep and at my most vulnerable, my least up to answering the phone, when in a word I was completely incapable

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Meet the Author

Grégoire Bouillier's first book, Rapport sur moi, received the 2002 Prix de Flore for an author of outstanding promise. The Mystery Guest (L'invité mystère) is his second book. He lives in Paris.


Grégoire Bouillier’s first book, Rapport sur moi, received the 2002 Prix de Flore for an author of outstanding promise. The Mystery Guest (L’invité mystère) is his second book. He lives in Paris.

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