Catherine de Saint Phalle’s memoir brings us the developing consciousness of a star-struck but lonely child as she struggles to understand and negotiate parents who appear to her mythic, godlike. There is her Spanish-born mother, Marie-Antoinette or Poum, whose main occupation seems to be reeling off The Odyssey and whose sudden appearances and disappearances are ‘like the goddess Minerva’s’, and her father, Alexandre, who sweeps Catherine along on glamorous excursions and regales her with stories – here Napoleon or Caesar, there his childhood dog, Touts – before unceremoniously disappearing for days on end. Catherine is captivated as much by Poum’s whimsical moods, fears, and obsession with death as by Alexandre’s grandiose tales, but as parents they scarcely appear to see her as a child who needs their care.
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