Poum and Alexandre: A Paris Memoir (Catherine de Saint Phalle, Transit Lounge)
Catherine de Saint Phalle’s first work of nonfiction, Poum and Alexandre: A Paris Memoir, is an intricately woven narrative that centres on the author’s eccentric and charmingly flawed parents. Her mother Poum is an ‘unmotherly’ woman with a penchant for Odysseus. Her father Alexandre is a banker who ‘smells of honey’ and is openly loved by women. It appears an amiable family unit for little more than a chapter, as childhood memories reveal a guilty secret that prompts disapproval and resentment from relatives and friends. I was particularly struck by the relationship between the younger Catherine and her father—the rambling joy that Alexandre elicits from their conversations and spirited games. De Saint Phalle’s memoir feels like an ode to storytelling, merging tales of Greek mythology and French history seamlessly into her own. It will undoubtedly reward history buffs, but may cause those unfamiliar with such references to stumble. Some readers might also find themselves envying de Saint Phalle’s autonomous childhood while simultaneously baulking at her parents’ frequent disregard for her wellbeing. This book will appeal to readers who take particular delight in unconventional families and Parisian quirks.
Sophie Teague is a Melbourne-based freelance writer