Editor’s Note: Agnes Poirier is a French journalist and political analyst who contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines and TV in the UK, U.S., France, Italy. Follow @AgnesCPoirier on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Former French First Lady publishes book about her relationship with Francois Hollande
Nobody comes out of the saga unscathed, writes commentator Agnes Poirier
Poirier: Trierweiler herself comes out very badly by dishing the dirt in public
Greatest casualty is President Hollande and his image, she adds
France’s ex-First Lady, Valérie Trierweiler, is back with a vengeance. A few hours after her memoirs of her relationship with President François Hollande, called “Merci pour ce moment” (Thanks for the moment) hit the bookstands in France, a new poll showed that the President’s approval ratings were in free fall, reaching the historical low of 13%.
Some extracts had been leaked to the press the day before and Paris Match, Trierweiler’s employer, had exclusively revealed the “best pages,” or rather the most damning pages about the President. On Thursday evening, her publisher revealed that in just a few hours of sales, her essay was doing three times better than Fifty Shades of Grey when it was launched. On Amazon, her book was selling like hot brioches, with one copy sold every five seconds.
However, French political commentators, and for that matter the entire political class – allies and foes alike – dragged again to invade the privacy of the president, are clearly showing signs of farce fatigue and don’t relish his ex-girlfriend’s exercise in character assassination. They may have been amused back in January 2014 to learn of their President’s gallivanting in the streets of Paris, on a scooter driven by a bodyguard, en route to his belle, actress Julie Gayet, but today, they are not impressed.
The truth is that nobody comes out unscathed. Literature is perhaps the first casualty in this never-ending scandal, and on two levels.
September is traditionally the literary season in France during which hundreds of new novels appear (600 this year) and vie for some space in the media. No doubt Valérie Trierweiler’s book, by generating so much comment and covering so much space, will have ruined the prospect of many worthy first novels.
Secondly, “Merci pour ce moment” reads like a cheap romance and is an embarrassment for a former Paris Match literary critic. A few examples: “one day, a violent love blazed through my life like fire.” On their first kiss, in the middle of a cross-road in Limoges: “It was indescribable, just like a scene out of a movie.” And the book’s epitaph: “I was not protected nor was I betrothed. I only hope I was loved as much as I loved.” Trierweiler is no Flaubert.
On the revelation of the President’s affair, Trierweiler keeps talking about “betrayal,” a word she also strangely uses to talk about Ségolène Royal, the mother of the President’s four children whom Hollande left for her.
In fact, Trierweiler was hoping for “a scenario à la Clinton” with Hollande “apologizing in public and committing to never see Julie Gayet again.” Except we are in France and a French President doesn’t apologize publicly for having had a fling. She was ready to forgive him, she says. When Hollande decides on the contrary to break up, he suggests to her to write a joint communiqué, but she refuses; he also asks her not to write a book about it all.
What is very dubious about Trierweiler’s exercise is that she claims her life at the Elysées Palace was like being on a reporting assignment and that is how she says she wrote her book. Only problem is, a reporter cannot be the main actor of the events he or she is supposed to be describing. Also, this is one version of events. We all know that a break-up has many sides; and that truth is the most elusive of concepts in love.
Trierweiler herself comes out very badly: by dishing the dirt in public, she appears as she is, a scorned woman who can’t get over it, full of revenge and full of herself. Did she ever think of France when she wrote her book? Did she think of the country’s institutions? Couldn’t she have waited until her former lover left the Elysées Palace? For a former First Lady, she shows little sympathy for her compatriots and her country.
The greatest casualty however in this affair, is President Hollande and his image, which is now damaged beyond repair. In her 320-page bitter attack, she presents him as a liar, cold and cynic. She also writes that he mocked her modest origins, calling people like her family “the toothless”. Not quite what you might expect from a socialist President.