Tuesday 28 April 2015

Catherine Certitude by Patrick Modiano

You know that something special is coming your way when you start noting down & highlighting quotable lines on page one of a new book.

The story begins in New York. Catherine is an elderly woman watching her daughter teach a dance class. She notices a young girl wearing glasses. The young girl carefully places her glasses on the chair to dance. Instantly, Catherine is transported back to her own glasses-wearing childhood.
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.
When I wore my glasses I saw the world as it was. I couldn't dream any more. 
I loved how this one paragraph told me that this was going to be a book about perception & memory - my favourite bookish themes.

Catherine Certitude is by the Nobel Prize in Literature 2014 winner, Patrick Modiano.

It was first published in 1988 in France.
This lovely hardback edition, translated by William Rodarmor & illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempe, was recently published in the UK through Andersen Press.

It's a curious tale with more adult appeal I feel, than the early reader picture book that it looks like from the outside. The cover declares that it's a love letter to Paris, but it feels more like a loving homage to a father/daughter relationship. Full of tenderness & nuances, Catherine Certitude highlights all the special little understandings that exist in any strong bond.

Catherine now runs a ballet school in New York, but this is the story of her childhood in Paris:
Only one thing in my life is out of the ordinary: before we came to America, I spent my childhood in Paris, in a neighbourhood off the 10th arrondissement. 
One of the few things I knew about Modiano from all the publicity last year was that he had had a difficult childhood and that his stories were concerned with memory, history, identity and the complexities of choice.

I was therefore, even more curious about Catherine's story - was this a wish fulfillment tale about his own childhood or perhaps a story about his relationship with his two daughters?
Modiano's work is haunted by what he says was a cold upbringing, creating the impression of a long letter to his parents. (The Local)
Catherine Certitude leaves us with many unsolved mysteries. Why did the mother leave them in Paris? What were Mr Certitude's shady dealings? Why did he emigrate to France?

There are all sorts of signposts from Modiano's own life - the cold, unavailable mother and a father engaged in dodgy collaborations. Yet, it is clear that this father and daughter are very close. Tolerant and supportive of each other's dreams and foibles:
We always stay the same and the people we have been in the past go on living until the end of time.
Catherine Certitude is Modiano's only children's book, but I for one, will be reading more of his adult work to explore his "art of memory" (Nobel Prize committee).


  1. I do like those sketches.

  2. Anonymous28/4/15

    Just beautiful.... I remember when I read Mondiano's book 'L'Herbe des Nuits' the most striking image was 'light'.
    A character left the light on in a room: "you forgot to switch off the light in another life....or perhpas is someone in the room still waiting for you.
    I was wondering if light was mentioned in this book?
    I loved the symbol of the (reading) glasses. Simple yet true...when I take them off I'm isolated, blind as a bat and it is a relief to put them on again.
    Great post...and another Nobel Prize Winner!!

    1. No he didn't use 'light' metaphors or symbolism in Catherine. The idea of seeing and perception was conveyed via the glasses that both Catherine and her dad wore.

      At the rate I'm going Nancy, I wish that ALL the Nobel Laureates had written a children's book!!

  3. What a delightful find, Brona. So glad you shared it. Thanks for playing along with Dreaming of France. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

  4. Anonymous5/5/15

    This book looks absolutely delightful! I've been meaning to read his books since he became a Nobel Laureate; will keep an eye out for this title ;)


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