Report on Myself Paperback – 20 Jan 2009
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About the Author
GREGOIRE 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..
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bouillier does not wallow in his miseries or beg the reader's pity. Neither does he anesthetize himself to their profundity. He is quick to read meaning into events, coincidences, details, and names that would pass most "normal" people unnoticed. The reader is tempted to think Bouillier is being led on by the kind of infantile magical thinking that many powerless and traumatized people take solace in. But his observations are striking and his interpretations cannily believable. Making no reference to God, Bouillier seems to be immersed in a coherent if inexplicable reality that few of us ever get to (or allow ourselves) to see. Bouillier does not see himself as caught in a spiritual struggle, yet it would not be hard to posit that there is a Higher Power who watches over him or that he has experienced many miracles in his life. As he recounts of his time living on the streets and in the doorways of Paris, "I remember a sentence that I tirelessly scrawled on everything I came across, like a talisman I would put up everywhere: `The way was lost along the road; well, then there is a road'" (p. 97). And elsewhere he writes, "Events don't end by themselves as I thought they did but prolong themselves through their consequences, which in turn become events, and so on" (p. 120). What Bouillier has given his readers is French existentialism at its most personal--scary, and inexplicably hopeful.