THE MYSTERY GUEST has garnered some good reviews since it was first published in translation in 2006:
"After a few hours with this little book, one can't help but feel that every ordinary object and exchange is alive with meaning." -- Esquire
"The charm and the magic of THE MYSTERY GUEST is that by connecting the inner and outer worlds of its lovelorn author, it illuminates the countless hooks and loops of coincidence, miscommunication, and self-consciousness that form the strange Velcro that holds together the cosmos.'
"Bouillier is Proust in a bottle, his book a wonder of getting pretty much everything that matters into a minature transparent container. Read it, then set it on your desk. Pick it up again. Gaze into it. Be startled. By your own scaled-down reflection most of all." -- GQ
In the thin trade paperback edition of The Mystery Guest now being sold at Amazon, there are four pages of such blurbs in the front of the book. Every year it seems to appear on several best lists, at least since the Largehearted Boy aggregated lists have been on-line. At Oprah's site, in People magazine, the New York Times, on and on.
I read it yesterday, while munching on Christmas left-overs, while Frank Sinatra's voice was still crooning holiday songs hauntingly, the kind that repeat and repeat in your ears.
"One gloomy Sunday afternoon, Gregoire Bouillier answers the phone only to hear the voice of the woman who left him, without warning, five years before. She isn't calling to apologize or explain the way she abruptly vanished from his life, but to invite him to be the 'mystery guest' at a birthday party for a woman he's never met."
Brouillier has been mourning the loss of the relationship for five years, in a Woody Allen despair, and now he has mixed feelings about seeing this lady again. Part of him wants to, is overjoyed at the chance, but part of him says, "Don't you know, little fool, you never can win. Use your mentality. Wake up to reality."
Which reminded me of what Tom Robbins said in an interview with JANUARY MAGAZINE,
"One of the influences on my work is a popular song by Frank Sinatra. "I've Got You Under My Skin." Because he sings from the point of view of a man who is absolutely, obsessively in love. I mean, in love to a point where it's probably psychologically dangerous to him. Yet every now and then he will just start to play with the words as if they were baubles. And he'll be really playful and noodle around with the words for a while and then right back into extreme emotional passion. When I heard that song and really listened to that song I realized what Sinatra was doing in it. I had a realization that this is the way that I view the world. This is the way that I view my work."
And with George Bouillier's memoir too. His flights of fancy, the meanings he reads into her words, into the situation, are egotistical rationalizations, first one way, then the other. But then he begins to noodle around with the nuances, to find patterns where none exist, except through natural synchronicity.
What he discovers at the party is that his lost lover exists in a similar fog, taking as her script the life of a character in a book she had long obsessed over when they were together, Mrs. Dolloway. Broullier's loopy illusions have their own literary agenda and the ideas here are post-modern.
THE MYSTERY GUEST is a quick, playfully amusing read, well worth the small amount of time it takes to read it. I finished it feeling sad for Brouillier, not because he lost that particular woman, nor the one after, but because his idea of love, throughout the memoir, is the materialistic, shallow idea of love that permeates our popular culture. It is not love at all; it is an ego-driven sex-in-the-city kind of shopping for love, never satisfied, always on the make.
The real mystery here is that Brouillier never seems to catch on to himself, to judge by this book. He has my sympathy.