France’s finance minister is in the spotlight. But it’s not the country’s downgraded credit rating, nor the government’s hated retirement age hike that’s got people talking.
His work “Fugue Americaine” – which includes a scene with an unforgettable phrase about an anus – has brought mockery, even in France, where a politician writing erotica is nothing new.
The offending passage has thrown a harsh light back on the storied history of French politicians’ flirtations with literary careers.
Le Maire’s fourth book in five years, the release of “Fugue Americaine” saw the minister face questions about his moonlighting as a writer.
“10 lines on 480 pages – you should read the book,” he said Wednesday to French broadcaster France Info, his exasperation evident at being questioned on the book’s most erotic scene a week after its publication.
“It is about music, my passion for music,” Le Maire insisted of the novel, whose central character is a piano virtuoso.
For France’s finance chief, politics and prose go hand in hand.
“If there were only politics – without the freedom that literary and romantic creation gives – politics would not be enough,” he said in an interview last week.
“A lot of civil servants, senior civil servants like to take on an intellectual dimension especially, I would say, a literary one,” Luc Rouban, the head of the Centre for National Scientific Research attached to Science Po, France’s political sciences university, told CNN.
“It’s a bit of provocation,” the researcher added, “that’s largely part of the culture of the grande bourgeoisie.”
Le Maire is no stranger to harsh critiques, or steamy lines. His first book – “Le Ministre”, a memoir of his early years in the foreign ministry – describes an intimate scene with his wife in a Venetian bath.
And after years of rumors, the finance minister finally admitted to his pseudonym ‘Duc William’, the name he used as a student to write a passionate erotic novel about a doctor and a married woman.
Le Maire has been stoic on his infamy. “Who cares?” he told France Info, when asked if he was worried about being mocked.
He’s far from the first to feel similar heat.
Marie Minelli, known in her day job as junior social affairs minister Marlène Schiappa, has written titles including “Dare to Have a Female Orgasm” and “Letter to my Uterus.”
She ruffled feathers recently by appearing fully clothed on the cover of Playboy magazine.
The crime novel of Macron’s former prime minister, Edouard Phillipe, also came with a few titillating passages, including one detailing the perfect bosom.
“A real chest is round, it’s comfortable, it’s welcoming and you have to be able to put your nose in the middle with jubilation,” he wrote.
The aristocratic President Giscard d’Estaing wrote a bestseller in office and infamously, later in life, the novel “La Princess et le President,” about a fling with the Princess of Wales, thought to represent Princess Diana.
It is common for French men of state to write, Rouban said. During his mandate, President Georges Pompidou edited a collection of poetry while the retired President Charles De Gaulle wrote his memoirs.
Times may have changed.
While the corner of erotica in Le Maire’s latest literary offering may have provoked sniggers, it’s not so much the content as the time commitment to his writing that has annoyed parts of the French public.
Some in France chastized the finance minister for devoting time to writing, especially as the country weathers economic headwinds.
Rising inflation has challenged the French economy since 2021, reaching a peak in early 2023 of 7.2%. That figure, while historically high for France, still remains low for parts of Europe today.
The French finance ministry confirmed to CNN that Le Maire had warned the French presidency of the book before its release.
And the finance minister seemed unabashed on Twitter.
“Literature allows me to escape my everyday life, to take a step back, to think differently,” he said in a statement. “It is a need that is worth waking up early for, worth going to bed late for, to spend one’s weekends and one’s holidays.”