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Report on Myself [Paperback]

Gregoire Bouillier , Violaine Huisman

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Book Description

Jan. 20 2009
Distinguished by the same charm and playful prose that helped make The Mystery Guest such a cult favorite with readers and reviewers, Report on Myself is the memoir that won Grégoire Bouillier the French Prix de Flore and universal acclaim.
Here, Bouillier tells the whole crazy story of his life, from his conception in wartime Algeria to his gritty Parisian boyhood at the mercy of his working-class bohemian parents.
With trademark pithy vignettes, he illuminates his life through the stories of his four loves, beginning at age nine with the bourgeois Marie-Blanche, younger sister of his best friend, and ending with the relationship that nearly destroyed him, the aftermath of which he chronicled to such great effect in The Mystery Guest.
Shot through with indelible images, bad puns, and Bouillier’s gift for drawing meaning from the seemingly innocuous coincidences of daily life, Report on Myself turns on a literary revelation (in this case, The Odyssey) that helps Grégoire decode the patterns laid out by his life, while teaching us a thing or two about love and literature along the way.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Original edition (Jan. 20 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 061896861X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618968619
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 14 x 1.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,064,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

GR�GOIRE BOUILLIER is the editor of a scientific magazine and author of The Mystery Guest. Originally a painter, he published his first book at age forty. He has one daughter and lives in Paris, France..


No Bio

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

I HAD A HAPPY childhood.

Sunday afternoon, my mother bolts into our room while my brother and I are playing in our separate corners. "Children, do I love you?" Her voice is intense, her nostrils beyond belief. My brother answers straight on, but all I can muster with the confidence of my seven years is to hem and haw. I get what’s going on but at the same time dread what’s to follow. I end up murmuring, "Maybe you love us a little too much." My mother looks at me in horror. For a moment she’s at a loss, then moves to the window, shoves it open, and tries to throw herself from the sixth floor. Having heard the noise, my father catches her on the balcony after she has already stuck a leg into space. My mother yells, puts up a fight. Her screams echo through the courtyard. My father pulls her roughly backward and drags her inside like a sack. During the struggle, my mother’s head hits the wall and goes clunk. For a long time afterward, there’s a small bloodstain on the wall. One day I draw some circles around it with a black felt-tip pen and use it as a dart target; when I hit the bull’s-eye, I imagine for a brief instant finding again a way to speak without fear.

When my mother met my father, she was sixteen and he was eighteen. It was in 1956, during a surprise party at the house in Bois-Colombes into which my father’s family had moved after the war in ’39. My father brought the party to life by playing drums in a little jazz band made up of fellow law students. My mother helped him do the dishes; a year later they were married and they had my brother, whom they named Olivier for no particular reason I’m aware of.

My father barely had time to see his son; he had to do his compulsory military service. It wasn’t the best moment to be drafted: instead of the obligatory eighteen months, what wasn’t yet called the Algerian War forced him to wear a uniform for nearly three years. He was quartered at Tizi Ouzou, the capital of Algeria’s Great Kabylia region, where, according to him, not much happened.

Getting separated from her husband so soon upset my mother. She quickly made up her mind: to abandon her baby at her in-laws’ and go join her lover in Algeria. Such boldness wasn’t common to most seventeen-yearold girls of the time.

Down there, they loved each other. And they were more — or should I say three times more? — than happy to do so because an intern at the hospital in Tizi Ouzou fell under my mother’s not unsubstantial charms; soon he’d join them in their romps, and in the midst of such threesomes, I was conceived.

"You’re a love child," my mother would repeat to me throughout my childhood, without my knowing what it meant and whether it was something to worry about. In public she loved to mention my olive skin and the fact that there was no Bouillier in me. Much later, when I asked, she revealed the circumstances under which I was conceived and ended up saying that she’d read in a magazine that when two men ejaculate in a woman’s vagina, instead of competing, their sperm cells fuse to fertilize the egg and give birth to a mutant.

She also told me that my father had great hard-ons and was a homosexual; later she claimed she’d said that to please me.

My mother was acting true to form; she wasn’t yet twelve when her brother, who was two years older, stood up from the table and blurted at the father who was reprimanding him for some petty offense, "You’re not my father!" In fact, he was their uncle; he’d secretly replaced their father in his sister-in-law’s bed after their father had disappeared during the beginning of World War II. My mother, who was born at the end of 1939, hardly had a chance to know the man who’d given her life. She must have sensed it vaguely when she decided to go to Algeria to be with a man who himself had left for war right after the birth of his child. And just as a brother had stood in for another as her father, it was in the arms of two different men that she became a mother for the second time.

From brother to brother, my granny remained with the Pérards, and she didn’t have to change names to keep appearing wonderfully married in the eyes of the world. All in all, it was kept in the family, and administratively it simplified things. Nevertheless, all traces of the one who disappeared had to be erased, which must have taken a certain effort, since it involved silencing a brother, a husband, and a father at the same time. The children were raised according to this little scheme.

For years on end, none of them suspected the truth except the elder, certain of whose confused memories couldn’t be manipulated. In the case of my mother, she still remembers that discovering her life was built on a sham came as "a shock." In saying so, she can look me in the eye without getting flustered.

As for my granddad, he was an affable man, and he adored his little bastard bitch who followed him everywhere like a shadow. He dubbed her Satellite in honor, he claimed, of the Soviet satellite Soyuz, which means "union"; genitally speaking, this was pretty appropriate, and twenty times a day he could call the truth by its name, which he kept on a leash without anyone suspecting — not even him. When he shouted "Satellite," it came out "Slattern."

In Old French, Pérard means "bad father."

As for Bouillier, it means "small birch forest." Thus I know what kind of fiber I’m made of, which not everyone can say.


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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I was lusting for passion." Dec 27 2008
By Erik Olson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Frenchman Gregoire Bouillier has had a colorful and downright strange life according to his "Report on Myself." This review's titular quote, snatched from his pithy and intriguing memoir, sums up the wild, double-edged nature of his existence so far. It's worth a voyeuristic visit.

In each chapter of this short book we drop into a random stage of Mr. Bouillier's life. His supremely dysfunctional parents fight, swing, cheat, and divorce, with the hapless young Gregoire irradiated by the fallout of their actions. I suppose if this were an American family the author would've rammed himself through years of hand-wringing therapy. Indeed some traumas, like his molestation by his older brother, would've rated entire books in our culture. But here that disturbing occurrence only gets a cursory paragraph. C'est la vie, I guess.

A running theme throughout "Report on Myself" is the influence of past occurrences on Mr. Bouillier's present circumstances. For example, as a child he experienced the sudden disappearance of a friend and his family, including the beautiful matron he became smitten with after accidentally seeing her nude. Later in life, one of his loves dumps him by pulling her own vanishing act (we see the aftermath in his other memoir, "The Mystery Guest"). He links events like these together in a synergistic fashion, as if the past was a dry run that equipped him to make sense of present distress. Even certain books, such as Homer's "Odyssey," lend structure to his journey. A little weird, but then again I've coped with reality in a similar fashion, so I'm glad to see that I'm not alone.

The major angst in the author's life results from his stormy romantic relationships. His first adult relationship with a relatively conventional woman bores him, so he gravitates toward a couple of high-maintenance paramours with, ah, issues. Based on the anecdotes about his mercurial mother, a pop psychologist might diagnose a long-running oedipal complex, but I'll leave that to the experts. Whatever the state of Mr. Bouillier's unconscious mind, when it comes to his love life he exults in the highs, endures the lows, and tries to make sense of relational disintegration.

Mr. Bouillier has the ability to make interesting observations by being present in some parts of his life and removed from others. He can take a passionate or uncomfortable moment and plop us down right there with him. Conversely, the author is able to remove himself from an event and dispassionately comment upon it, leaving us to make our own judgments. I found either path intriguing. I'm glad I've avoided some of his pitfalls, but he's certainly had a number of exciting rides that trigger my envy reflex.

At any rate, "Report on Myself" is an intimate look at a man's relationships and how he uses the past to help him make sense of his present. I recommend reading this with "The Mystery Guest," which provides more detail about the aftermath of his stormiest and most affecting romantic relationship.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars creativity as an alternative to madness Jan. 21 2009
By H. F. Gibbard - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Gregoire Bouillier is one of those authors whose almost unbearable sensitivity took him to the edge of madness but who stubbornly refused to give in to the chaos of his inner and outer world. His parents were bohemians who made little attempt to shield him from their disordered sex lives. His mother was suicidal and his father was ambivalent about the family. But Bouillier emerged triumphant from his ordeal, even though it left him on the brink of insanity. Now he turns the sort of self-referential, paleological thinking usually associated with schizophrenic disorders into a playful, almost cheerful autobiographical game of punning with words and coincidences that he shares with us. It's a fun ride, if sometimes a harrowing one.

At times, his frank confessions are quite disturbing. Nowhere is this more true than in his description of the three months he spent on unemployment, sleeping until dawn in stairwells, listening to voices in his head that ordered him to do things, writing obsessively in the margins of newspapers. The report of his mental breakdown is quite depressing, and he could have ended up institutionalized. But Bouillier's soul is made of a sort of rubber that always returns to its natural shape, refusing to be deformed by circumstances. He characteristically bounced back after reading Homer's Odyssey in a single night. In the Odyssey, he found a frame for his own life, a narrative worth pursuing, an existence worth living.

There is one amazing line from this book that sums up his entire life: "my ambition wasn't to exist in this world, but to make a world exist." That sort of existential courage makes his entire account worthwhile.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a mere sketch of an interesting life Dec 15 2008
By Aleksandra Nita-Lazar - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
My feelings about Gregoire Bouillier's quasi-autobiography "Report on Myself" are mixed. I was pleased with the beginning, promising a good story, and I liked his prose, full of memories appearing in a flash. The great French tradition, reminding me of masters such as Colette and Proust, seemed to continue in this little book.

Additionally, the psychological twists and complications in the narrator's family life reminded me of Woody Allen, perhaps because of the times he describes (he was born in 1960). The stories grow wilder and wilder with each page, and the descriptions of Bouillier's love life and his bizarre adventures with his girlfriends become more and more surreal.

I loved his discovery of Odyssey, and how it makes his life and the book rooted in Western Civilization; I was the more interested because of my own cathartic experience with a book, interestingly also about Greece - it was "The Magus" for me...

Unfortunately, I found the book as a whole a little incoherent, the flashes and jumps between different moments of Bouillier's life chaotic, and I was bored with last 10 pages, although the book is tiny. Maybe the problem lies in its size: I felt like it was a sketch, material for a much more voluminous and developed memoir.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I'll Blame it on the Translation Jan. 14 2009
By Rick Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This short book is more of a few sketches of a life than a coherent memoir. Most of the sketches surround the author's women - girlfriends, his mother, a mother of his best friend and a prostitute he only just met (sort of).

There are two elements to the book. There are the recollections of incidents and then his philosophical analysis of those events. The anecdotes were amusing and interesting. The philosophizing was often nearly incoherent. Frequently, I had to just accept that a sentence made no sense either structurally or in context. This may have been, and hopefully was, due to the translation. Thus, there was much lost in the translation.

The anecdotes were amusing enough to keep me plodding through the somewhat rambling material in between but in toto, this book was mediocre.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a great short memoir Jan. 20 2009
By jennahw - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I really enjoyed this book, especially compared with a couple other memoirs I've read lately. I'm not going to lie, Gregoire's life has certainly had it's share of tragedy (which is a good thing - some other recent memoirs seem to be making tragedy out of nothing, which is annoying and just not a good read). But unlike other recent memoirists I've read, Gregoire doesn't take himself too entirely seriously. True, he does ruminate on his women in the form of staph infections and Ulysses characters, but still - he has a refreshing sense of humor about it all. Also, I liked that he covered the events in his life that were really meaningful and changed something - he didn't cover every bowl of cereal he's ever eaten.

Note that the story is told in non-chronological order. We actually get the most recent snippet near the beginning, and it jumps around repeatedly after that. This didn't bother me though. They are ordered in such a way that you get certain revelations at an appropriate time.

The only reason for the minus one star is that I feel that because it's a translation, you do lose a little bit. This is a wonderful translation, but because a lot of stuff (mostly in the beginning) is based on wordplay, you do lose a bit until you remember that this wasn't written in English.

A quick read, and well worth it. I may be checking out his The Mystery Guest now.

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