Gregoire Bouillier has made a nom for himself as an unconventional autobiographer, a gracefully gonzo presence brooding his way through eccentric memoirs. In The Mystery Guest (2006), the Paris-based journalist detailed his odd reunion with an old love. Years after dumping him, she gave him a call, and he, mustering the will to pick up the phone, received an invitation to attend a party as a kind of human conversation piece. "Every year," he writes, "this friend had a birthday party and invited as many people as she was years old, plus a 'mystery guest' who stood for the year she was about to live." The riffs that followed amounted to slapstick philosophy, pointing the way toward this sardonic sequel.
In its very title, Report on Myself signals Bouillier's almost clinical sense of detachment, the quality that sets his account apart from this genre's many self-pity parties, despite all the woe that came the author's way as the child of a floridly unstable mother. The story begins with his mother's nostrils flaring as she asks Bouillier and his younger brother, "Children, do I love you?" At the age of 7, he demonstrates a precocious talent for disquieting frankness, replying, "Maybe you love us a little too much," prompting her to attempt to throw herself from a sixth-floor window.
While the mother haunts this story like a madwoman in a 19th-century novel, the son staggers through it like a kid in a Noah Baumbach movie — bright, wild and weird — as a slide show of anecdotes flip past. He structures the tale of his existence according to an idiosyncratic perspective on language: Finally finding his calling as a writer at age 40, he connects this new "appetite for living" with a childhood staph infection because, as his translator has it, Staphylococcus aureus rhymes with fortyish. Later, he tells of an eye-opening reading of Homer's Odyssey that happened when he connected the dots between the women in his life and the likes of Calypso, Circe and Penelope.
In recounting all the revelations and oddities, he divulges strange gripes, dispenses cracked epigrams and indulges occult whims, as when writing that women with the letter i in their names — Nathalies and Valeries and Carolines — have always been his lucky charms: "For me, love is also an affair of vowels."
Meanwhile, the book — content to be minor, determined to avoid uplift — is an affair of offbeat charisma. Its fragments add up to a frank attempt to capture the weirder mysteries of life's truths. Or, at any rate, as much truth as you can expect from an antsy imp who confesses, about his boredom with an early job writing 60-character news briefs, "I began to invent dispatches and secretly distribute them. Sabotage is the only weapon that remains within reach of everyone."