Archives for posts with tag: The Mystery Guest

Winter of our discontent, book cover, steinbeck

The last three books I read were in depth explorations of the way that the mind blankets objects and situations with meaning. To the Lighthouse, The Mystery Guest, and The Mezzanine are all beautiful works that rely on objects as the vehicles for emotional content, for hope, for love, and for nostalgia.

In To the Lighthouse, there’s a pivotal scene towards the end of the first book where a character looses a brooch, and gains a lover. The brooch was a family heirloom, or something, but the interesting thing is how Woolf is able to use the object as an anchor for psychological and emotional experiences. Boulliere brings a pricey vintage bottle of wine as a gesture of his faith in the absurd, as a symbolic bridge across time and temperament. And of course there are the infinite close readings of quotidian objects in Baker’s The Mezzanine, the little book of a day in detail. There something about our stuff, the objects that we often touch more than we do our loved ones, something about these things that make up our lives.

I’ve been thinking about books as objects, the tactile book made of paper and glue, especially since I began this project.  What would ‘bookish’ mean without physical books? I know that the terrain of paper- vs e-books has been pretty well covered, and I have very little to add to the map. Just that these objects mean something to me.

When I was younger, I went through a pretty serious Steinbeck phase. My favorite was The Winter of Our Discontent, and still is by virtue of how much I loved it then. I have been carrying this object around, moving it from one place to another, from Calgary to Toronto, on buses, on planes, to the beach, to school, the subway, you name it, for over a decade. The edition I have is weathered and worn, the pulp cover having fallen off many times. Somewhere along the way someone taped the cover on upside down and backwards, as a prank, so that when I read the volume in public I look foolish. These memories are grounded in the physical object of the book itself, and no matter how I feel about Ethan Allen Hawley or Ellen or Mr. Marullo, I could never relive so many years of my own life in the same way if I were to read a digital copy.

Advertisements

Sometimes, when I’m going to a party, I stand outside for a really long time. Like, a realllly long time, and I just listen in. Then my mind starts going, and I think about all of the possible interactions and outcomes; I write the party, I mentally rehearse the party; bare shoulders and bold thumb prints on the bowls of wine glasses, condensation on beer bottles, exclamations and padding around the kitchen, always the kitchen, in stocking feet.

Mystery Guesy Book Cover, Presents

Of course, if you’re partying at Sophie Calle‘s house, chances are pretty good that you’ll find yourself drinking from champagne flutes and wearing your shoes. Then again, Sophie Calle lives in France, where a house party means something else entirely. And for Grégoire Bouillier in particular, this party takes on such psycho-symbolic significance, that it becomes in and of itself a sort of cosmic event in the small universe of his life.

The Mystery Guest is an involuted party. The pre-party preening is a whorling cortex of pain and the pathetic, wrapped around the peculiar French take on spurned love. Because Bouillier’s relationship with a woman who remains unnamed was of the type that ‘died suddenly at home,’ Bouillier spends about a third of the book attaching meanings almost ad hoc to the objects that are in his orbit; turtleneck shirts, light bulbs, bottles of wine, cut roses in a vase.

In other parts of the book, Bouillier manages to gracefully connect his own prismatic and kaleidoscopic  interiority to another famous party; he traces the outline of Mrs. Dalloway onto the remembered flesh of his former lover, and in so doing reveals anew the circuitry of the mind.

I enjoyed this book immensely! Not having anything like fluency in French, I can’t say if Paris Review editor Lorin Stein’s translation was faithful, but I can tell you that it was beautiful. Great stuff!