A skillful blurring of art and reality is achieved in French author Bouillier’s beguilingly spare “account” of recovery from a romantic heartbreak.
A sudden call from a lover who left him abruptly years before lurches the narrator of this fiction-cum-memoir from a state of cold paralysis into preparation for battle. The vanished girlfriend resurfaces to invite the narrator to the birthday party of her husband’s best friend, artist Sophie Calle, who always invites a “mystery guest” to represent the year to come, and which the narrator has been designated. This blast from the past strikes the still emotionally raw narrator, caught napping and vulnerable in the afternoon, as a way to finally “cut the leash” that tied him to the former girlfriend’s inexplicable vanishing—and achieve at last a sense of redemption. The weeks before the big night plunge the narrator back into the hellish despair of having to think about the former lover constantly, conveyed in self-aggrandizing, hilarious reflections on matters such as the ridiculous turtlenecks he has taken to wearing as a kind of Band-Aid. He obsesses over signs of fate, coincidences, “a force seeking some means of self-expression,” such as the orbiting of the Ulysses space probe, in order to make sense of the former girlfriend’s reappearance in his life. Determined not to be the laughingstock of the party, he decides on the perfect gift to bring: a bottle of vintage Margaux well beyond his means. And on the night of Reckoning, when he nervously, warily presents himself, his now-married and very lovely former girlfriend informs him that the hostess, Sophie, never opens her presents, rather she displays them. In fact, meeting the girlfriend again does not elucidate anything for the narrator except in her whispered parting words about the bouquet of cut roses—straight from Mrs. Dalloway—which then lifts his battered heart into the divine, redemptive realm of literature.
The deceptively effortless translation by Stein renders this a treasure at once absurd and heartbreaking.