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the Complete Review
the complete review - account


The Mystery Guest

Grégoire Bouillier

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To purchase The Mystery Guest

Title: The Mystery Guest
Author: Grégoire Bouillier
Genre: Account
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 120 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Mystery Guest - US
The Mystery Guest - UK
The Mystery Guest - Canada
L'Invité mystère - Canada
The Mystery Guest - India
L'Invité mystère - France
Der Überraschungsgast - Deutschland
L'invitato misterioso - Italia
  • An Account
  • French title: L'Invité mystère
  • Translated by Lorin Stein

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Our Assessment:

B : curious small memoir, with a (self-)obsessed narrator

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 28/2/2008 Jochen Schimmang
The LA Times . 17/9/2006 Susan Salter Reynolds
NZZ . 28/5/2008 Thomas Laux
The NY Observer . 28/8/2006 Emily Bobrow
The NY Sun . 15/11/2006 Benjamin Lytal
The NY Times Book Rev. A 17/9/2006 Erica Wagner
People . 4/9/2006 Jake Lamar
San Francisco Chronicle . 10/9/2006 Regan McMahon

  From the Reviews:
  • "Er liegt leicht in der Hand, ist vom Umfang her überschaubar, ist flüssig und zuweilen auch amüsant zu lesen und handelt zudem ein großes und ewig junges Thema ab, nämlich das Verhältnis von Kunst und Leben. Es kommt schließlich auch zu einem bündigen Ergebnis, nämlich dass das Leben selbst der eigentliche Roman sei." - Jochen Schimmang, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Just when a character in a novel, a narrator of a work of nonfiction or a friend reaches a level of self-centeredness that makes you want to crawl into a freezer, literature steps in to save the day. You are not, it reminds us, special. Your story has been told in many languages." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Der heute 48-jährige Franzose wartet zwar mit der im Grunde eher trivialen Pointe auf, dass Literatur Rettung sein kann, dass die Koinzidenzen von Wirklichkeit und Einbildung auch die ungeahnten Schnittstellen von Kunst und Leben sein können -- aber er macht das auf sehr augenzwinkernd-unkonventionelle Weise." - Thomas Laux, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(A) perversely satisfying memoir (.....) Anyone whose anxieties tend to buzz in the ear, creating a din that makes it impossible to act unself-consciously, will enjoy this slim volume. Mr. Bouillier is looking back and poking fun at himself, but the events are captured with a raw immediacy, making his parade of humiliations feel fresh and profound." - Emily Bobrow, The New York Observer

  • "Much of the pleasure of the book comes from imagining Lorin Stein's work translating from the French (.....) Texts don't get much more self-conscious than that, but they also seldom italiize live so successfully; they're rarely so debonair, at least over here." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

  • "(S)ad, funny and vivid (.....) He’s at once literate and ironic, and also just some poor schmo who’s been dumped." - Erica Wagner, The New York Times Book Review

  • "While its social and cosmic musing can be too detailed, the book is saved by the author's appreciation for life's uncanny seredipity." - Jake Lamar, People

  • "Bouillier obsesses on a literary level, with eloquence, insight, Proustian perception and allusions to great works of literature (most significantly Mrs. Dalloway). At times his conclusions may seem as silly and self-deceptive as those of the gals chatting over a half Caesar, dressing on the side. But his text is brilliantly entertaining and at times hilarious." - Regan McMahon, San Francisco Chronicle

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:

       It's pretty cold of a woman to leave the man she's been seeing "without a word of explanation, without so much as saying goodbye, the way they abandon dogs when summer comes" -- but you also have to wonder about the man who is treated this way: what kind of a loser warrants being dumped like this ? One such guy is the narrator of The Mystery Guest, and the danger is, of course, that one quickly comes to see the woman's point of view .....
       The Mystery Guest does have a decent premise: here's this guy sunk in self-pity for years now after he's been dumped when one night, completely out of the blue, his old flame calls again. Leading, of course, to all sorts of expectations -- including hoping for an explanation for what she did back then. But she has no interest in the past: the reason for her call is simply to invite him to a party.
       It's for her husband's best friend (yes, another blow: she's married now), Sophie Calle: every year at Calle's birthday someone is charged with bringing a 'mystery guest'. It's her assignment this year, and she thinks he's perfect for the role.
       This strange and sudden resurfacing of his old flame throws the narrator into even more turmoil, raising more questions than it answers. He still hasn't dealt with the past, but this present is completely overwhelming. Unhappily self-obsessive, he now even has more to work with and worry about.
       He goes to the party, of course, even spending a fortune he can't afford on a fancy gift (which, of course, goes completely unrecognised). It's a chance to meet and confront his old flame, for one thing. But the world (and the party) move at a different pace from him: it's no surprise that he doesn't really fit in, and that nothing goes as he imagines it. Yet there is a glimpse of something, a literary allusion .....
       The Mystery Guest -- and the 'mystery guest' -- have a literary focus. The book even begins: "It was the day Michel Leiris died", and it's literature the narrator can finally turn to to resolve what's been troubling him. Not too surprisingly, he also turns to writing, and produces a book. (The bulk of the story takes place in the fall of 1990, but it also moves ahead, finally ending in 2004 (even as his story continues ...).)
       The appeal of this slim memoir has to be in the narrator's voice, but it's an occasionally dubious pleasure: he's kind of a whinger, and kind of a loser and it really isn't that hard to see why he got dumped as he did. But Bouillier does a decent job with his fumbling actions and confused thoughts, and there are some very nice comic touches (including, hilariously, when he finally gets over her, quoting not from the book that he thinks holds the answer but from the publisher's blurb ...).
       The book is short enough that the self-obsessing doesn't become too tedious, and Bouillier does lighten things up with some clever detail. A (just) amusing and touching enough piece.

Note: In reviewing this book we initially referred to it as a 'novella' (i.e. fiction), but it is apparently meant to be a memoir. Whatever it is, it doesn't really change our opinion (or reading) of the book (though maybe it should).

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The Mystery Guest: Reviews: Other books by Grégoire Bouillier under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Grégoire Bouillier was born in 1960.

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© 2006-2011 the complete review

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