The Mystery Guest

A mind can play tricks on a jilted lover, especially an introspective one, which is what author Grégoire Bouillier goes through in The Mystery Guest, a philosophical and often hilarious 2004 memoir that has been translated from the French by Ben Truman. On the day the writer Michel Leiris died in 1990, Bouillier got a call from a former girlfriend who left him years ago, the way "people get rid of their dogs when they go on vacation." She invited him to a birthday party for her husband's best friend, an artist who, each year, "invited as many people as she was years old plus a 'mystery guest' who stood for the year she was about to live." The unnamed ex had the job of "supplying the anonymous stranger." At first, Bouillier was offended, but then he accepted, as he hoped this was his ex's way of getting back together.

It's a treat to delve into an addled mind, particularly one as witty as Bouillier's. Part of the joy is the mix of cantankerous musings--was his ex's true reason for calling to turn him into "a sentimental curiosity and a stuffed monkey and a dwarf to be tossed as far as possible"?--and highbrow references, from Charles Baudelaire and Friedrich Hölderlin to Humbert Humbert and Mrs. Dalloway. Bouillier also explores the general concept of a mystery guest, an outsider who is not always welcomed by others. It all works beautifully in this imaginative work. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

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