The French public is mercilessly mocking Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire over a torrid sex scene in his new novel, multiple outlets reported on Monday. As France’s credit rating dropped and thousands continued to protest austerity measures, Le Maire defended his writing as something he did for “personal balance.”
Le Maire has been President Emmanuel Macron’s finance minister since 2017, and is widely seen as the public face of the pension reform Macron rammed through last month. Protests against the measure began in March, and have occasionally turned violent. The unrest has contributed to France’s credit getting downgraded last week by the rating agency Fitch.
That announcement came just hours after Le Maire had published his latest novel, ‘Fugue americaine’ (American Fugue), his fifth while in office and twelfth overall. The finance minister, as it turns out, is a prolific writer in his spare time.One page from the book gained infamy over the weekend, going viral on social media with a variety of insults aimed at the author. The scene depicts one of the novel’s protagonists, Oskar Wertheimer, in a sex act with a woman named Julia during a trip to Cuba, “screaming words that the most basic decency forbids me to write in this chronicle of a predicted disaster,” according to one unofficial translation. AFP described it as a “breathlessly erotic passage.”
While some were slamming Le Maire for purple prose, others questioned whether his literary predilections got in the way of doing his actual job. The finance minister should not have “a minute, an hour, a week of his time to devote to writing a book” while the French public was trying to cope with inflation, opposition MP Francois Ruffin of La France Insoumise has argued.
Last month, Le Maire’s colleague Marlene Schiappa drew the ire of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne by posing for the French edition of Playboy – though mostly clothed, and as part of an interview about serious social issues. Schiappa is a prolific writer herself, having published more than 28 novels and essays, some using the pen name Marie Minelli.
Borne reportedly called Schiappa to tell her that this “was not at all appropriate, especially at this time.”
Le Maire insisted he had no problem doing his job and indulging in his literary urges. “If there were only politics – without the freedom that literary and romantic creation gives – politics would not be enough,” he told AFP in an interview last week.
In a follow-up statement posted on Twitter, Le Maire said writing helped him take care of “personal balance,” and that it was “a need that makes it worthwhile to get up early, go to bed late and to devote weekends and holidays to.”
“Some people go to museums, cinemas, concerts, football. Others garden or go hiking. As for me, I write,” he said.
The French public appeared unimpressed. As of Monday, ‘Fugue americane’ had a 1.4 star rating on Amazon France, with over 90% of negative reviews.