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

4.3 out of 5 stars 11 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.)
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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
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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 (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,219,024 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is amazing. It at first feels like a mystery, then like a bitter story of loss and resentment, coming full circle into an unexpected love story far more real than you might have hoped.

I've bought and given this book as a gift at least a dozen times.
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Format: Hardcover
Mighty thoughty. To pick one of my own to start I got the notion that this was as convincing a portrait of the intellectual's way as any Buddhist might portray of his own. Perhaps the tea leaf reading is atypical. Some out there were convinced this was a novel; I can understand that. I like to think the reason for that is that it seems so imaginative, even flirting with the fantastical at times. But its a bio, and for all I know its the truth and nothing but. I found the focused self absorption part of what made it seem an uncomfortable read for me, I bet many others found their patience tried while wondering where he was going. What's on the table is that love matters, so why did she walk away? The reader will be rewarded in a fashion if he does not give in to early dismissal with 'Get over it'. There is a great deal more than, as they say, meets the eye here. For me what is key comes down to a koan, 'Roses .. the only flowers she could bear to see cut.'.
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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: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Bouillier has a powerfully descriptive narrative voice. I became the character, thinking and speculating in anticipation and at times discomfort. This was a book I could not put down. A wonderful quick read for winter weekend or a day at the beach.
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