Friday, February 20, 2009

Grégoire Bouillier, Report on Myself

What an interesting little book Bouillier's Report on Myself is. And I use "interesting" well aware of the possible double edged nature of this particular descriptor. Caroline Weber, writing in the New York Times, enjoyed it. As did most of the reviews aggregated at The Complete Review (which in its own review enjoyed it far less).

Bouillier, and I can't help but note this, chronicles a rather hard childhood, which seems to run counter to the opening line of the book, "I had a happy childhood." Or perhaps it's because Bouillier presents something far different from a chronological memoir. Instead, he opens chapters firmly in the past, with the six, seven, eight year old self and drifts and meanders along through second great loves and their dissolution, or his brother's disappearance, or...

So maybe I don't have a proper picture of his childhood, muddled as it is with loss and hurt of later years. Or maybe it's Bouillier who lacks perspective.

Structurally -- schematically -- I am quite enamored of the book. He makes the jumping about work for the most part (though, perhaps intentionally, I found myself rather lost and at sea as he he embarks on his own Odyssey -- striking a rather heavy-handed and labored pose as Ulysses in the late-middle stages of the book).

It's also quite something to read that "For eighty-five hundred francs a month, my job was to compose, in fewer than sixty characters, news items about children killing each other as they got out of school, husbands cutting their wives' throats, mothers smothering their babies, not to mention suicides" (117). Ah, the more things change...

Funny how even ones own reading circles back on itself. In little ways.

Do I risk a final judgment? I trust I do a better job with my son than Bouillier's folks did with him. It can't be that hard now, can it? Ah, but will Owen have as much material to work with or the drive to work it in the manner and to the extent Bouillier does? Ah, well, that's a risk I'm far more willing to take.

The book, the book? Not as strong as his later work, The Mystery Guest (which actually appeared in translation first), but, slight as it is, worth a visit.

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