‘Macron’s beautiful blue eyes’ – Five things to know about the French finance minister’s new book

The French finance minister has been making a literary stir with his new book describing - among other things - the piercing blue gaze of his boss, Emmanuel Macron.

'Macron's beautiful blue eyes' - Five things to know about the French finance minister's new book
Finance minister and author Bruno le Maire. Photo: AFP

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire this week published his new book L’Ange et la Bête: Mémoires provisoires (The Angel and the Beast: Provisional Memoires) covering his time working at the ministry.

Here's what you need to know about it:

1. He's an experienced writer

This isn't Le Maire's first foray into literature, or even his first book since he became Finance Minister – since his arrival at Bercy in May 2017 he has authored three books. He has also previously written an erotic novel under a pseudonym.

This book describes his day-to-day work in government, including negotiations with the USA over France's digital tax (which lead to punishing tariffs on French wine) and the European and domestic response to the Covid pandemic.

Its title comes from a quote from French author Blaise Pascal: “Man is neither angel nor beast, and the misfortune is that whoever wants to be an angel should be a beast.”

He told Le Parisien that he mostly wrote it over the summer while on holiday and finished it during the second lockdown in October, getting up two hours earlier than usual to write.

Gaze into those blue eyes . .  Photo: AFP

2. He really likes Emmanuel Macron's eyes but is not so keen on Donald Trump

The sections of the book that have attracted most attention are those where he describes the various world leaders that he meets in the course of his work.

Donald Trump is described as not listening during negotiations on the digital tax at the G7 summit. He also apparently described Le Maire as “handsome”, turning to his wife Melania and saying: “Isn’t he handsome, the minister?”

An entire chapter is devoted to praise of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her policies for Germany and Europe, with a more personal description also included: “The corners of her lips fell in two deep furrows, like acts of perpetual contrition for the past faults of Germany, of which she had an acute knowledge.”

But it's when he moves on to describing his own boss Emmanuel Macron that things get really poetic.

According to Le Maire, the president's eyes have “a blue gaze tinted by metallic sparkles, like a lake burdened with sunshine whose surface it would have been impossible, under the scintillating reflections, to pierce.”

3. The book definitely isn't announcing his own presidential ambitions

Le Maire, who was formerly a minister in Nicolas Sarkozy's government before joining Macron's party in 2017, has firmly denied that the book is laying out his stall for a future presidential bid.

He told Le Parisien: “It's not a book about candidacy or emancipation. This story is a way of showing my support for the choices we have made over the past three years and, of course, my personal support for the President.”

He added that the book had been sent to Macron and Prime Minister Jean Castex ahead of publication “with a small dedication, of course”.

Not all political commentators appear convinced by these protestations of loyalty.

4. He thought he would die when he had Covid

Le Maire tested positive for Covid in September 2020, but returned to work after a couple of weeks of self isolation.

At the time he seemed to have had a mild case, but the description in his book seems a little more serious.

He writes: “I didn’t know this yet, but the virus circulated in my body. It would make me go through a moment of distress … I felt my infected lungs were in a tightening noose and I thought I would die suffocating. It would exhaust me.”

In a little-known side-effect of the virus, however, it also “forced me to write the last pages of this book”.

5. Writing erotic and romantic novels is practically a requirement for French government

Le Maire is far from the only published author in the French government and many past and present ministers have turned their hands to erotic and romantic works.

Former Prime Minister Édouard Philippe co-wrote Dans l'Ombre (In the Shadows) a detective novel crossed with erotica, while Citizenship Minister Marlene Schiappa – who was a writer and blogger before becoming a politician – has never denied claims made by L'Express newspaper that in the past she authored erotic novels under a pseudonym.
French politician and novelist Aurélie Filippetti has also included a very racy scene in a novel and there's the erotic novel written by former President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in 1994, Le Passage (The Passing) which sparked rumours of an affair between the former president and Princess Diana.
And then of course there's Emmanuel Macron's unpublished novel. The President is believed to have, when very young, written a novel about his budding relationship with Brigitte Trogneux (now Madame Macron) although it's not clear whether this a romance or something a little smuttier and very few people claim to have actually read it.




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OPINION: Macron’s speech revealed his long game for France, but is it a game he can win?

In the wake of Emmanuel Macron's (unusually brief) speech to the nation and an orgy of blame and speculation, John Lichfield takes a look at how the turbulent months ahead are likely to play out in France.

OPINION: Macron's speech revealed his long game for France, but is it a game he can win?

In eight minutes on Wednesday evening, we saw the best of Emmanuel Macron and the worst of Emmanuel Macron. In his TV address to the nation, he was confident; he was solemn; above all he was brief.

He accepted that the hung parliament elected last Sunday reflected “deep divisions” in the country. He said that France  must “learn to govern differently…We must build new compromises…based on dialogue, open-mindedness and respect”.

But he failed to admit any share of responsibility in the impasse which voters have created. He said that he still had a “clear mandate” from his Presidential victory in April. He called for compromise but said that some of his own promises – no new taxes, no increased debt – were untouchable.

Hear more analysis from John and The Local team in our Talking France podcast.

In April, Macron acknowledged that he had won partly through the votes of people who disliked him but feared Marine Le Pen more. He promised to govern with them in mind. He hasn’t.

His alliance drifted through the parliamentary campaign without strongly defending Macron’s presidential programme, let alone coming up with new ideas to appease the voters, of Right or Left, who supported him on April 24th by default.

That is not the only reason for the mess that France is now in. Other factors played a part: voter fatigue; inflation; the perpetual French instinct to demand “change” but resist all changes; a campaign which largely ignored the gathering threats in the world outside.

France now finds itself, by accident, in a world which the present generation of French politicians have never known – a German, Italian, Spanish or Belgian world of coalitions, compromise and shifting alliances.

This was the world – a world of revolving-door governments –  which Charles de Gaulle devised the Presidency-dominated Fifth Republic to replace. Some argue that the return of parliamentary power will be A Good Thing.

It will generate more profound political debate and a culture of constructive compromise. I doubt it. The new National Assembly – with nine political groups, including large blocs from the Hard Left and Far Right – will be more bear-pit than Periclean Athens.

There has been a witch-hunt going on in the French media about who is “responsible” for the fact that Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National leaped from 8 seats to 89 in the new Assembly.

READ ALSO Is there really a ‘voter surge’ to the far-right in France?

The Left, both in France and abroad, has blamed President Macron’s Ensemble! alliance for failing to give clear advice to its supporters last Sunday to vote for the Left in two-way, second round contests with Lepennist candidates. As a result, they say Le Pen won at least 30 seats which might have gone to the Left-Green alliance, Nupes.

They fail to point out – and the French media has only belatedly started to point out – that exactly the same thing happened, only more so, with those Left voters who faced second round races between Macron and Le Pen candidates. Almost 60 percent of the Far Right victories – 53 – came in two-way contests  between the Rassemblement National and Macron’s Ensemble! alliance.

Exit polls vary but all of them suggest that voters of the Left  abstained, or even voted for Le Pen candidates, to “screw Macron” more than Macron voters abstained or voted Le Pen to “screw” the Left.

In effect, the Macron alliance and the Left-Green alliance shot themselves collectively in the feet by abandoning the so-called Republican Front against Le Pen. Each might have won at least 30 extra seats if both had voted for one another. The Macron alliance might even have just scraped a majority – which is presumably what Left-Green voters wanted to prevent.

A similar hue and cry is in progress against the Macron camp for its alleged willingness to work with Le Pen and her deputies in the new parliament. There has been some loose talk by some Macron allies. Most senior Macron lieutenants have ruled out deals or alliances with the Far Right bloc.

But what of Macron himself, who asked Marine Le Pen when they met on Tuesday whether she would contemplate joining a government of national unity? He asked the same of most of the party-leaders he met.

All refused and as Macron said in his eight-minute address, the idea is impractical and unjustified.

Why raise it at all then? Especially with Le Pen?

Partly, I think, because Macron believes that as President of the Republic he cannot pretend that the 89 Far Right deputies do not exist. Partly, I believe that Macron is playing a would-be clever waiting game.

He sees no real prospect of a long-term alliance with the 64 centre-right deputies. He expects in the short term to conduct  urgent business – including a new anti-inflation package  -through ad hoc alliances with the centre-right and moderate Left.

In the longer term, he believes (and maybe hopes) that such cooperation is doomed to fail. He wants to be seen to have given all combinations of parliamentary peace a chance before he “declares war” and calls a new legislative election next year.

Hence last night’s message. What are all the groups in parliament – including the three Macron-supporting ones – prepared to concede to allow the vital business of government to continue?

It might have been smarter politics if Macron had said, more clearly, that he also is ready to make concessions and listen to other people’s ideas.