This is the story of two flawed eccentrics.
Everything they do subverts their firm intention of keeping up appearances. They meet just after the war in liberated Paris but they cannot quite free themselves from the many strings attached to them - the old aunts, the sisters, the cousins, the nuns and the ominous concierges that dog their footsteps.
Alexandre is a banker and a Resistant; he has never gone to school and lives in a world of numbers and Roman emperors. Poum has never darkened the threshold of a school either, signed a cheque or ever quite lived like other mothers do. She resides in the Odyssey and in her bed, hiding from the mysterious disapproval of their relatives, for they both seem to persist in some irreparable faux pas which has them wading through a lifetime pickle. Their daughter, Catherine, would like to help but she seems to be part of the problem.
This is no ordinary childhood, and Catherine de Saint Phalle's acceptance of her parents, despite their prominent flaws, shines through, propelling us head first into their strange, yet beautiful, Parisian world.
Poum and Alexandre is a searingly honest, humorous and moving ode to family and place, and a meditation on the ways they ultimately define us.
'A memoir of a very gifted writer’s unusual parents, woven from myth, history, and family lore. This is a disturbing, bittersweet and poetic rendering of the longing for love and understanding. More than personal, it conjures past worlds, their horrors and their triumphs, as if they were wholly present to us.' - Tracy Ryan, author of Unearthed, Claustrophobia and Sweet
Shortlisted for the 2017 Stella Prize