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The Mystery Guest: An Account Hardcover – August 22, 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This is a story about how one man rejoins the world of the living. Napping fully dressed one cold fall afternoon, our narrator is awakened^B by a phone call from a woman who left him without warning or reason two years before, driving him to emotional bleakness (and turtleneck sweaters). But she does not provide the answers he seeks--nothing in his life does, really--and she only wants to know if he will attend, as a special mystery guest, a birthday party for someone he does not know. There, he finds himself to be the (miserable and confused, yet somehow optimistic) centerpiece of an inscrutable piece of performance art by Sophie Calle. But as he walks home distraught through the streets of Paris, all the pieces fall into place and the fog is lifted. Increasingly one of France's leading literary wits, Boullier delivers an ostensibly autobiographical novella that is charmingly absurd, gently metafictional, and gloriously French. Highly recommended. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (August 22, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374185700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374185701
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,993,823 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found myself reading this memoir as if it were fiction. Not because the author was making any Frey-like implausible, grandiose claims, but because I felt "the story" was very much in the hands of a "shaper," someone who knew what he was saying and where he wanted to take his readers. The story, such as it is, is simple: the narrator (Gregoire?) has been invited to a birthday party for someone he doesn't know by the woman who had walked out of his life years before without so much as an explanation. The party is for an artist, a woman who invites as many guests as years of life she is celebrating. To this number she empowers someone to invite a "mystery guest," a person who represents the unknown/unknowable year to come. Gregoire is that guest. But the simple (silly?) invitation triggers an enormous amount of questions and self-doubts and spawns hope (that he will meaningfully connect with his ex, or at least come to understand why she left him).

It is not surprising that the author finds parallels in two seminal 20th century stream-of-consciousness writers (Bouillier's only bit of grandiosity in this otherwise self-deprecating story)--Joyce's ULYSSES and Woolf's MRS DALLOWAY. Like those two substantial classics (which also blurred the lines between reality and fiction), THE MYSTERY GUEST seems to find profound meaning in the trivial (even in the trite); and it unfolds like a riff on the musical observation, "What a difference a day makes." Big, human issues are at stake in this little story. Microcosm intersects macrocosm. (Be warned, the story actually has a spaceship in it!) What could easily have devolved into an amusing "French Woody Allen" scenario is really a thought-provoking affirmation of life, literature, and the power (and mystery) of human connections.
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Format: Hardcover
This little book was purchased as a result of a review in a recent NY Times Sunday Book Review. At first odd, it takes you deeply into your own life and feelings through this remarkable French memoirists' candor and insight into himself.

Gregoire Bouillier shows rare honesty in his portrayal of his human frailty when he is invited to a party by a woman who had dumped him years before with no explanation and no parting. He has carried this burden ever since and takes it with him to the party determined in the most childish way to either get her back or make her sorry she left him. In the end, the book is not about that but about the act of writing itself and its power to show us our insignificance and our importance all at the same time. I hope you can find yourself in this book, as I did.
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By AP on November 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At first I thought this book sounded great but some books don't translate well. That was not the case here. I found the translation excellent. As the reviewer before me said, it definitely blurs the line between fact and fiction which is what made it even more interesting. It's a slim book that can easily be read in a couple hours. I found myself wanting to pick up Mrs. Dalloway again ASAP and enjoyed the cameo appearances of Sophie Calle.
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Format: Hardcover
The premise strains credibility but drives suspense: who is the "she" and could someone have really committed such an abandonment with so little explanation? The central event is the party where we will meet the mystery woman of the mystery guest. But the narrator becomes more precarious by the minute. Might be a wild goose chase, but you can't look away. Wondering too if you know some similar real life character, a casual acquaintance who is not as drunk as he seems, who interprets your daily hello not as classroom/workplace/cafe camaraderie but as a code to express your fanatical adoration. But I digress.

Our unnamed narrator has a distinct Humbert Humbert sensibility, so no surprise when "Lolita" is mentioned in the narration. The freighted half-submerged streaming prose tries to evoke Woolf, and then "Mrs. Dalloway" figures into the story. (Hmm...!) I felt reminded of a character in a Nabokov short story about parents traveling to visit an institutionalized son who is easily frightened because he sees portents in the clouds and in the branches of trees, so that after much agonizing they settle on a basket of jellies as the gift least likely to derange him further. In "Mystery Guest's" party scene I wondered if someone would send our protagonist off with his own basket of jellies. I suspected that an early draft had a Proustian layout of one long solid paragraph until an editor kindly suggested the Unicode bullet breaks. And of course there is the inward spiraling hyperawareness of Poe. But really - there I go again.

Bouillier is probably what some call a writer's writer, although more to the point, that is what he likely calls himself.
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By readernyc on December 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"The Mystery Guest" is a trip, an unforgettable one which involves any reader as was said by others. Someone wonderful simply handed this slim memoir-novelish to me and said, "You will love it." I rarely let others select books for me but it was by far the best read of this month and one I highly recommend.

In the stream of consciousness, this author and his translator, manage to involve anyone who has ever loved and lost and then continued on to the next adventure. I found most brilliant:

the way the narrator resolves why the woman who left him did. That is the turning point and so original and so amazing. Go buy this book. Honestly, unless you've never loved someone or lost someone I cannot imagine that any reader will be disappointed. let us know.
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