Macron minister raises eyebrows with racy novel
A new novel by French President Emmanuel Macron's heavyweight finance minister, containing one breathlessly erotic passage that has gone viral, has forced the government to explain how he finds the time for such penmanship in a period of economic trouble.
"Fugue americaine" ("American Fugue") by Finance and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, 54, is no less than the 13th book by the politician who has held his post since Macron came to power in 2017.
Le Maire has been on the front line of defending Macron's controversial pension reform which has sparked months of sometimes violent protests but the government says is necessary to balance the books.
He also faces to pressure to help the French deal with the rising cost of living due to surges in fuel prices and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
But "American Fugue" inhabits a wholly different world.
It is devoted to the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz, through the story of two brothers, Franz and Oskar Wertheimer, who travel to Cuba to attend one of his concerts and whose lives are then turned upside down.
- Not have 'a minute' -
But it is one single page of the novel, widely shared and the target of mockery on social media, that has taken all the attention.
It describes Oskar having sex with a woman named as Julia in excitedly erotic and also deeply explicit terms.
MP for the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party Francois Ruffin said the minister 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".
In an unfortunate coincidence for the minister, the novel was published on Thursday, just hours before credit ratings agency Fitch downgraded the country's debt worthiness.
It also comes as controversy mounts over the communications of Macron's government after social economy minister Marlene Schiappa posed for Playboy, albeit mostly clothed.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne took umbrage over the April front cover shoot, calling Schiappa to tell her that it "was not at all appropriate, especially in the current period".
Le Maire's colleague Olivier Dussopt admitted he had not read the new novel but defended the minister's right to write it.
"This shows that there are feelings... behind the suits of the ministers," he told BFMTV, adding he had seen the erotic passage and it "made him smile".
- 'Personal balance' -
Le Maire, who has written five of his 13 books in the last four years alone, said he has no trouble mixing this double literary and political career.
"If there were only politics -- without the freedom that literary and romantic creation gives -- politics would not be enough," he said last week in an interview with AFP.
Le Maire is by far from the first French political heavyweight to have major literary ambitions.
In retirement, former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who died in 2020 aged 94, gained a penchant for writing racy novels.
These included the 2009 "The Princess and the President" that recounts a romance between a French leader and a British princess widely seen as the late Princess Diana.
Macron's former prime minister Edouard Philippe, seen by some as a possible successor to the president, has co-authored two thrillers.
In a statement on Twitter, Le Maire acknowledged that many followers were curious about "how I find the time to write while I am a minister".
He added that while he was devoted to his job he had also learned to take care of "my personal balance".
"Some people go to museums, cinemas, concerts, the football. Others do the gardening or go hiking. As for me, I write."
"It's a need that makes it worthwhile to get up early, go to bed late and to devote weekends and holidays to this."