France may be burning but Minister of Economy Bruno Le Maire’s loins are too…
Everyone has hobbies, a form of escapism from the daily grind.
For French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire, it’s writing.
However, an erotic passage from his latest novel, ‘Fugue Américaine’, is causing a bit of a stir.
The descriptions from Le Maire’s second novel, released on 27 April, have not only garnered mockery on social media, but have incited French politicians to react to matters of image and communication - much like when Marlène Schiappa, the French Secretary of State for Social Economy and Community Life, posed for Playboy last month.
In this novel, Le Maire tells the story of two brothers, Franz and Oskar Wertheimer, originally from New York, who go to Cuba for a concert in 1949 to hear illustrious pianist Vladimir Horowitz play. It’s been described as dealing with the "cultural clash between East and West", and "a moving reflection on the fragility of beings and on the capacity to live."
So far, so standard book blurb.
Then comes this passage, when Oskar describes his lovemaking with a woman called Julia.
"Elle me tournait le dos ; elle se jetait sur le lit ; elle me montrait le renflement brun de son anus. "Tu viens Oskar ? Je suis dilatée comme jamais."
"She turned her back to me; she threw herself on the bed; she showed me the brown bulge of her anus. 'Are you coming Oskar? I’ve never been this dilated."
We’ll let you take a moment to recover from that… But it does go on…
"En disant ces mots elle avait un visage d'ange; si elle était folle d'amour, moi j'étais en extase. Car pour le jeune étudiant dont la pratique sexuelle s'était jusque-là limitée à de sobres figures, rapidement exécutées dans le noir, Julia était une révélation; elle était la lumière, elle était la vie".
“As she said these words she had the face of an angel; if she was mad with love, I was in ecstasy. For the young student whose sexual experience had until then been limited to sober figures, quickly performed in the dark, Julia was a revelation; she was the light, she was life.”
Well, there that was.
These few lines - specifically the "brown bulge" - went viral on social media and provoked mockery, with some readers criticising the minister's writing style.
“URGENT: the government announces the setting up of a psychological unit (accessible from a toll-free number) for all those who have inadvertently come across the erotic texts of Bruno Le Maire.”
“I didn't sleep all night, as soon as I closed my eyes I was in front of a big neon sign that said "brown bulge of her anus.”
“What a disgrace that a minister of the Republic should write such insanities! Giscard's love novel would be preferable!” (Referring to former President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing’s 2009 novel ‘La Princesse et le Président’, which dealt with a relationship between two characters reminiscent of Lady Diana and himself.)
It doesn’t help that the publication of Le Maire's book coincided with the announcement of the downgrading of France's financial rating by the American agency Fitch.
“We have found the social utility of Bruno Le Maire: to rid you of any impostor complex if you want to take up literature. (or convince you that the level is definitely dropping) (It’s no surprise that the Fitch agency rates us badly after this).
Indeed, the rating agency's decision to downgrade France's financial index from "AA" to "AA-" has become intertwined with the “erotic” passage.
"A packet of pasta costs €2.30 euros, but Bruno Le Maire has time to write about the 'brown bulge’," wrote another detractor.
It’s safe to assume that these naysayers are not familiar with some of Le Maire’s previous works, which also include some “raunchy” content.
For instance, in his book 'Le Ministre' (2004), he wrote:
"Je me laissais envahir par la chaleur du bain, la lumière de la lagune qui venait flotter sur les glaces de la porte, le savon de thé vert, et la main de Pauline qui me caressait doucement le sexe."
"I let myself be taken over by the warmth of the bath, the light of the lagoon that floated on the glass of the door, the green tea soap, and Pauline's hand that gently caressed my penis."
Le Maire confided, a few years later to Le Figaro: "It was written in such a naïve way... It seemed touching to me."
Fiddling while France burns
Regardless of past form, the minister has been criticised for the time he spends writing, with some elected officials highlighting his disconnection with France, a country still wrestling with the outcome of President Macron’s controversial pension reform.
"The country is fighting against the pension reform. Millions can’t eat or fill their fridges or pay their rent. During this time the minister Bruno Le Maire writes novels," said Thomas Portes, the deputy of opposition party La France insoumise on Twitter. “They never stop throwing their contempt in our faces.”
Others have stated that the publication of this novel – much like last month’s controversial Playboy cover – shows that the government out of step with the mood of the country.
La France insoumise’s François Ruffin stated that the Minister of Finance should not have "a minute, an hour, a week of his time to devote to writing a book" when the French are experiencing "big worries about inflation.”
However, Le Maire has responded by saying that literature "allows me to escape from everyday life" and that he is proud of his dual career in politics and literature.
"If there were only politics without the freedom that comes with writing and novels, politics would not be enough," he explained last week in an interview with AFP.
Writers and ChatGPT to the rescue
It wasn’t just social media users or angry politicians that took notice of Le Maire's prose.
French writer Nicolas Mathieu, who won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 2018 for his novel 'Leurs enfants après eux', took to Instagram to mildly defend Le Maire’s words and suggest a better version of the offending passage. So to speak.
"What piece of that nature wouldn't seem ridiculous taken out of context, taken in isolation?" asked Mathieu.
Nevertheless, the writer said he indulged in a "little stylistic exercise", retouching the passage that "caused a stir on the networks yesterday, with a little excess" to see "how it could have been written differently".
"'Elle lui disait : regarde-moi, et il obéissait, forcé, bien content, le cycle devenu leur loi. Elle voulait qu’il la voie toute, même le laid, même ce qui d’ordinaire faisait honte, la brulure de l’épilation sous les bras, les rougeurs et les veines, les marques du linge, l’épaisseur piquée, mouvante sur les cuisses, le secret de son cul, le sombre froncement qui était l’intimité à sa limite et que soudain nue, penchée et sans vergogne, elle exhibait en s’écartant à deux mains. Les mots qui suivaient étaient pires qu’une odeur. Ils glissaient bas, scandaleux, qui donnaient des frissons et serraient ses couilles mieux qu’une paume. Le reste allait vite. L’amour à la verticale, l’apnée dans la mousse et les clapotis, le fort mélange des muqueuses où tout se confond, s’intervertit. Le bonheur d’être sales, enfin deux, bientôt soulagés et presque surpris. Est-ce qu’on avait osé jusque là ? Oui. Il faudrait recommencer."
Apologies for the rather basic translation on this one - it’s not every day you translate an author of Mathieu’s caliber:
"She would say: look at me, and he would obey, forced, happy, the cycle becoming their law. She wanted him to see all of her, even the ugly, even the things that usually made people ashamed, the burn of the hair under her arms, the redness and the veins, the marks of the linen, the prickly, moving thickness on her thighs, the secret of her ass, the dark pucker that was intimacy at its limit and that suddenly naked, bent over and shamelessly, she exhibited by spreading herself with both hands. The words that followed were worse than a smell. They slid low, scandalous, sending shivers down his spine and squeezing his balls better than a palm. The rest went quickly. The vertical lovemaking, the apnoea in the foam and the lapping, the strong mixture of the mucous membranes where everything blends together, interchanges. The happiness of being dirty, finally two, soon relieved and almost surprised. Had we dared to do it so far? Yes. We should do it again.”
Crude translation though it may be, we’re still not convinced.
Time for ChatGPT to have a go.
YouTube star Thomas Hercouët gave the chatbot a prompt, asking it to "write a text on pension reform in the same style".
Here is the result:
One line stands out: "Je suis prêt à réformer comme jamais."
"I am ready to reform like never before".
Now, that is sexy.
Or we’ll never sleep again. Jury’s out.