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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir


Report on Myself

Grégoire Bouillier

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To purchase Report on Myself

Title: Report on Myself
Author: Grégoire Bouillier
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 148 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Report on Myself - US
Report on Myself - UK
Report on Myself - Canada
Rapport sur moi - Canada
Report on Myself - India
Rapport sur moi - France
Ich über mich - Deutschland
Rapporto su me stesso - Italia
  • French title: Rapport sur moi
  • Translated by Bruce Benderson

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Our Assessment:

C+ : slight, meandering memoir, (some of) the parts better than the whole

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 2-3/2009 Tayt Harlin
FAZ . 12/6/2010 Ingeborg Harms
The LA Times . 4/1/2009 Susan Salter Reynolds
NZZ . 30/9/2010 Thomas Laux
The NY Times Book Rev. B+ 15/2/2009 Caroline Weber

  From the Reviews:
  • "Report on Myself chronicles Bouillier’s attempts to transcend the quotidian and live an outsize life -- one that approaches mythical proportions. (...) (H)is crises, laid out in episodic chapters (in a lithe translation by Bruce Benderson), are more often intellectually and emotionally riveting." - Tayt Harlin, Bookforum

  • "Bouilliers Kabbalistik des Ephemeren ist ein existentieller Strukturalismus, eine Landschaft der Wortriffs, radikal individuell und nur literarisch zu erkunden. (...) Ich über mich ist ein esoterisches Manifest, das sich gegen den Konsum kollektiver Fetische, Spektakel und trivialer Gemeinplätze wendet. Bouillier ist überzeugt, dass es weder Vergnügungen noch Nachrichten für alle geben kann." - Ingeborg Harms, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "It is Bouillier's failure, in this and in The Mystery Guest, to locate himself concretely in the world, no matter how hard he tries, that makes him at once delightful and important to read. He's lost. He believes he can find a way out but only tunnels deeper." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Tristesse in alldem ? Weit gefehlt. Es überrascht, wie locker, wie frisch das alles erzählt ist -- als eine grandiose, unhintergehbare Missachtung von Schicksal." - Thomas Laux, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Report on Myself is a study in raw angst and mortifying self-disclosure: a portrait of the artist as a lover who just can’t catch a break. If all this sounds rather Gallic and hard to swallow, it’s not. Bouillier’s self-effacing shtick also includes a talent for wringing genuine humor from his many travails." - Caroline Weber, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Report on Myself is a curious little memoir, about a damaged kid (Bouillier focusses on his childhood, and he hasn't really grown up convincingly) and his odd family. It begins -- and practically ends -- with Mom making for the window to fling herself out; in the first instance, it's because Grégoire hasn't given the right answer to her very revealing question: "Children, do I love you ?" (yes, that's the kind of mother she is), in the latter case it just seems to be out of habit.
       From Mom's suicide attempt to the facts surrounding his birth -- Grégoire was born in Algeria, where his father was serving his military service and where his teenage wife followed him to (!) (after abandoning the son they already had with her in-laws), and Grégoire was the product of a local ménage-à-trois (though Mom also helpfully: "loved to mention my olive skin and the fact that there was no Bouillier in me") -- Bouillier drops quite a few bombshells in rapid succession in the book's first pages. As it turns out, the book is little more than a collection of the bizarre, a dazed Bouillier relating episodes from his life (and information about his family and a few others) without really knowing what to make of them.
       Bouillier has an almost deadpan approach to many of the events he relates -- or perhaps it's out of sheer numbness (though he, too, explodes in the occasional rage, flinging a kitten out a window and smashing a few things in one little rampage, and losing control a few times at school). Certainly, he lives in an odd environment, with Mom not only trying to off herself at regular intervals but also managing to get herself knocked up constantly (but refusing to bring another child into the world, certain that it: "would be a deformed Mongoloid", and hence resorting to abortion time and again), while Dad leaves them for another woman for a year, but then rejoins the gang. Bouillier acts up and out too -- becoming a kleptomaniac, for one -- while his bed-wetting homosexual brother gets a taste of America when he spends a school-year abroad, and eventually flees for there (and, naturally, winds up dying of AIDS).
       The home environment is a toxic one, but even elsewhere Bouillier can't get a break: one event-filled visit to a friend's house ends with the family disappearing after apparently getting busted for being involved in a major drug deal, while Mom quits her job (and what supposedly could have been a promising career) to look after the kids after the (drunk) woman who looked after them got herself run over.
       So Report on Myself certainly doesn't lack for drama -- or is it melodrama ? One feels for young Grégoire, whose parents were obviously ill-equipped for certain aspects of child-raising and loaded both their kids up with emotional baggage and scars that presumably any kind of therapy (including writing) could never heal, but that doesn't make his account particularly appealing. In part it's because the book is so anecdotal: we rarely get a feel for the parents (or his brother) -- not surprising, given a narrator who reports he was surprised to see his father with a beard when he returned after his year away from the family, when in fact his father always had one. There are clues about the mother's neediness and impulsiveness, but the almost off-hand serial suicide attempts and abortions surely also need to be considered a bit more closely. (It may also be just us, but we have little patience for hysterics who constantly make for the windows threatening to jump out -- it gets to be a pretty tired routine -- and as for the abortions, come on: after the first dozen it's time for a lifestyle change (birth control pills ! condoms ! come on !).)
       Bouillier focusses on the parts of their lives that are out of control, and describes these lives as fairly aimless -- from his brother's gay times in America to Mom's repeated attempts to do away with herself -- but they must be doing something right too, his parents holding down jobs, his Mom able to keep Dad out of jail after he bounced so many checks supporting his floozy. Indeed, Bouillier's anecdotal presentation trivialises their lives, this sorry cast of characters coming across as little more than silly, damaged people (whom one would never want to have anything to do with) -- even as circumstances suggest there's a bit more to all of this and them.
       A childhood sickness left Bouillier without a sense of smell, and early in the book he relates:

     In grade school, I got my best composition marks by describing the souk of Marrakesh, its brilliant colors and intoxicating odors. The teacher read my paper in front of everybody and even passed it around in other classes. This was my first success in the world. It made me think deeply about literature and deception: I'd never been to Marrakesh and had no sense of smell.
       Naturally, this is meant to put doubt in the readers head, about the details of this very vivid (though generally odour-free) book. Perhaps Bouillier did more than just think about literature and deception, perhaps he fully embraced them; certainly the prize-winning and best-selling Report on Myself made for another 'success in the world' ....
       There are also a number of blackouts, of Bouillier failing (refusing ?) to remember specific details and events -- yet he's surprised when he figures out that:
I was persuaded that my memories couldn't lie or invent anything. Not mine. Only they showed what happened. And yet they too are betraying me. Like everything else.
       That feeling of comprehensive betrayal is telling -- it is surely a big part of Bouillier's problem -- but it is almost drowned out by the reader's own frustration, at finding that even this narrator questions his own reliability. What is to be believed ? (The question wouldn't matter so much if there were a clearer answer to why we should be interested in this story, but there isn't.)
       Bouillier frequently notes strokes of luck -- good and occasionally bad -- and little more than coincidence (including, hilariously, how he loses one of his girlfriends); the message is that the world just goes along its merry way and there's little to be done about it. He spells it out in the end, too:
My action hasn't changed a thing. Everything has remained in place. The world is the same, and I'm its prisoner. My intervention didn't accomplish anything. Didn't cause any upheaval. It's always the same oppressive emptiness. The same time, in repetition. The same death in life. It's still me.
       It's one way of seeing things, though it should be noted that almost no one in this account ever takes personal responsibility for anything. It's laissez-faire, with intervention of any sort only as a last resort (oops, time for another abortion ! or: grab hold of Mom before she gets out the window !). Bouillier isn't very contemplative here: he doesn't really wonder whether things can be changed (the 'intervention' referred to in the previous quote is, again, trivial) -- much less ever really try to change much. He remains impulsive. Good for him -- and it does lead to a few entertaining anecdotes. But does it make for a life (and life-account) that's of the least bit of interest to anyone else ?
       Bouillier does have nice touch with some of the almost off-hand anecdotes -- a technique that's effective here because so much of what he relates is so shocking and disturbing -- but the sum of these also makes for a very hollow feel to the book as a whole. The lack of introspection also serves a purpose -- the deeply damaged Bouillier comes across as a hollow shell of a person -- but that doesn't make him any more compelling or sympathetic.
       Report on Myself is a book with some art but little substance, and a cast of bizarre and fairly unpleasant characters, none of whom are adequately fleshed out.
       Readable, but frustrating and uncomfortable.

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Report on Myself: Reviews: Other books by Grégoire Bouillier under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Grégoire Bouillier was born in 1960.

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© 2008-2011 the complete review

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