Saturday, May 9, 2015

Catherine Certitude, by Patrick Modiano. Illustrated by Sempe.

Staff review by Chris Hubbard

This poignant yet humorous novella by the Nobel Prize winning author Patrick Modiano is being promoted as a book for children but just maybe adults will enjoy it even more.

First published in France in 1988 this short and lovely book describes the childhood memories of Catherine Certitude as she looks back to a life shared with her father. The adult Catherine is now living in New York and runs a dance studio.  While gazing upon her own daughter taking a dance class she is reminded of her time spent taking dancing lessons from Madame Dismailova. Catherine would remove her glasses when practicing and remembers that “without my glasses, the world lost its roughness and became as soft and downy as the big pillow I used to lean my cheek against before going to sleep.”

Catherine’s father runs an import business but details are sketchy as to what he is really up to.  Her mother, also a dancer,  has moved to New York.  Modiano has a remarkable ability to depict what it feels like to inhabit an actual childhood memory, albeit one brought to visual life by Sempe’s wonderful illustrations.  Like many fortunate children, Catherine’s childhood years abound with fond memories untarnished by the harsh realities that her parents may have been experiencing.  There is one funny sequence when Catherine and her father are invited to a fancy cocktail party and  have to keep up the pretence  of actually owning a car in order to appear socially acceptable.  Indeed, there is a touch of Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle in Monbiot’s gentle and astute observations of human nature.  This is an absolute gem of a  book that will sit pleasantly in the memory long after its final page has been turned.


Catherine Certitude, by Patrick Modiano. Illustrated by Sempe. Published by Andersen Press. ISBN:9781783443024 RRP:$22.99

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