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The Mystery Guest

Translated by Ben Truman
Published by McNally Editions
Distributed by Simon & Schuster


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About The Book

A “frank and wry, mad and graceful” (Slate) true story about getting dumped, and getting over it.

When the phone rang on a cold November afternoon in 1990, Grégoire Bouillier had no way of knowing that the caller was the woman who had left him, without warning, five years before. And he couldn’t have guessed why she was calling: not to say she was sorry, not to explain why she’d vanished from his life, but to invite him to a party. A birthday party. For a woman he’d never met.

Here is the unlikely but true account of how one man got over a broken heart, regained his faith in literature, participated—by mistake—in a work of performance art, threw away his turtlenecks, spent his rent money on a 1964 bordeaux that nobody ever drank, and fell in love again. Named one of the year’s best books by Slate and the San Francisco Chronicle when it first appeared in English, The Mystery Guest is a “darkly hilarious . . . odyssey . . . that wends its loopy way toward yes” (O, the Oprah Magazine).

About The Author

Grégoire Bouillier was born in Tizi Ouzou, Algeria, and raised in Paris. A former editor of the magazine Science et Vie, he is the author of four works of autobiography, incluidng Report on Myself and Le Dossier M. Having worked as a painter and journalist, he published his first memoir,The Mystery Guest, when he was forty years old. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: McNally Editions (May 21, 2024)
  • Length: 104 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781961341050

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Raves and Reviews

“By its second paragraph, Boullier’s ex—who left him suddenly and apparently cruelly some years earlier—has called to invite him to her friend’s birthday party . . . In the kind of perfectly ironic detail that could only come directly from real life, he decides to distinguish himself by spending more than a month’s rent on a bottle of 1964 Margaux, only to learn that as part of her artistic practice, Calle keeps all of her birthday gifts in storage in their original wrapping . . . It is a tightly written portrait of the artist as a young(ish) mess, and its ingenuity lies in its positioning of the ‘mystery guest’ as an idealized state that exists in diametric opposition to the thoroughly unmysterious position of the ex-lover . . . His problem—much to our delight, since this dilemma is what lends the book its jittery edge—is that he cannot be mysterious to save his life.”

– Philippa Snow, Bookforum

“I woke up the other morning and started to read this marvelous book. I stayed in bed until I had read the last page. I could not for the life of me think of anything in the world I wanted to do but read this book. I am tempted to stay in bed until Grégoire Bouillier writes another one.”

– Daniel Handler

“This perfect little book [is] a message to extraterrestrial intelligence that says: we are human, heartbroken, grim and funny in our despair, yet hopeful and miracle-prone.”

– John Hodgman

“The year’s most charming oddity . . . Frank and wry, mad and graceful, Bouillier riffs on his convictions, delusions, and stray theories in [this] French pastry, performing a kind of slapstick philosophy that sheds some light on his soul.”

– Troy Patterson, Slate, Best Books of 2006

“Sad, funny and vivid . . . As The Mystery Guest beautifully shows . . . even when the story seems to have spun out of our control (your lover leaves you, you lose your job, you are surrounded by intimations of mortality and loss) the power to reclaim it lies within your grasp.”

– Erica Wagner, New York Times Book Review

“Existential angst has rarely been as humorous or as heartbreaking.”


“Proust in a bottle . . . Read it . . . Pick it up again. Be startled.”


“A refreshingly odd voice . . . With its restless intelligence, The Mystery Guest manages to encompass all the thematic preoccupations of its touchstone, Mrs. Dalloway: time, fate, and the meaning of life. And unlike Ms. Woolf, Bouillier keeps us laughing . . . Bouillier’s prose . . . turns every interaction between the narrator and his fellow guests into a comic meditation on the impossibility of communication . . . And then suddenly, in a stunning reversal, Bouillier sets off the depth charges he’s quietly been planting throughout the book. In the end, we discover that The Mystery Guest isn’t a symphony of missed connections after all, but a kind of hymn to possibility . . . It leaves us moved, even as we shake our heads in disbelief . . . The Mystery Guest [leaves] the reader in a state of grateful intoxication.”

– Garth Risk Hallberg, The Millions

“An editor friend once told me that he thought that literature was ‘gossip about human nature,’ and in The Mystery Guest, I find precisely that: excellent gossip . . . and excellent literature. I love the book: it is sharp and witty, swift and compelling, it paints its exclusive world so vividly, and it so precisely captures the circling monologue which so many of us experience as our inner life.”

– Sheila Heti, from the Afterword

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