Insider’s Take

The author of The Mystery Guest explains his strange conception, his twisted upbringing and how a glimpse of a friend’s naked mother, followed by a street riot, seems to repeat itself every time he falls in love.

Imagine the quandary of Gregoire Bouillier. Conceived in one of several three-way encounters between his father, his mother and his mother’s lover, he can never be sure who he really is. His mother tells him it doesn’t matter, that “when two men ejaculate, in a woman’s vagina, instead of competing, their sperm cells fertilize the egg and give birth to a mutant.” And what a wonderful mutant he is. Bouillier, French author of the brilliant little book The Mystery Guest, is not only an insightful memoirist but a disarmingly honest one. He weaves together his anxious childhood with an unpredictable mother and his later, always ill-fated relationships with women. Despite bullies, adolescent frustrations and an encounter with a sexually ambiguous older brother, Bouillier trumpets a happy childhood and it’s almost true. He’s not without proclivities. He likes to pour his mother’s nail polish on toy soldiers and his hands and set them all on fire. He obsesses about a school mate’s prized marble. The simple lessons here (“you have to use your hands to help in penetration”) come at a cost and Boullier buys them in bulk. The larger lessons come from repetition as he draws the threads of his youth and knots them to his later romantic experiences. He finds laughs—big ones– in his existential puzzle. “Life impossibly mischievous?” he writes. “You think you’re living until what you’re really living dies, revives…” Happiness, he seems to say, comes from endlessly starting over and never getting over what you started before. Playfully written (translated from the French by Bruce Benderson) and full of ironic introspection, Bouillier’s book excuses us all from the self-obsession that haunts our day-to-day life.–Cabbage Rabbit

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