Thanks for this Moment, by Valérie Trierweiler. Les Arénes, Paris 2014.
This is a bestseller in France, a revealing story of the personal lives of two prominent people – Valérie Trierweiler, a well-known journalist at Paris-Match, and François Hollande, the current President of the French Republic. Valérie Trierweiler came to international attention after the defeat of Ségolène Royal for the presidency of France in 2007. It was only then that Royal, the mother of four children with François Hollande, announced that she had asked him to move out. The cause was apparently Valérie Trierweiler, and the French press treated her pretty much as a home-wrecker. When Hollande succeeded in defeating Nicolas Sarkozy for the same office 5 years later, it was Valérie Trierweiler and not Ségolène Royal who would assume the duties of First Lady at the Elysée palace. Clearly there could be no love lost between these two women. But Hollande supported Ségolène Royal in her run for a seat in the National Assembly. Trierweiler issued a tweet of encouragement to Royal’s opponent, Olivier Falorni, which caused a hulabaloo, exposing both her hostility for the ex-lover of the President and an apparent split between Trierweiler and him. Months later, the French press revealed that Hollande was photographed after an overnight visit with an actress, Julie Gayet. Within a few days, Trierweiler was recovering from a sleeping pill overdose in a Paris hospital. Hollande put an end to their liaison and Trierweiler was no longer First Lady of France.
The book is a memoir on their relationship – his side of the story remains untold, but he has protested some of the things Trierweiler wrote in this book. I take no position on what the true story is. This review is about Trierweiler’s story.
According to her book, Valérie Trierweiler came from a modest background, a “ZUP” near Angers. (A “ZUP” in France was a protected urbanization zone, basically public housing). She got a degree and went to work as a reporter, winding up, after a failed first marriage, with Denis Trierweiler, with whom she had three sons. Working for Paris-Match, she covered the Socialist Party, and got to know many people, including François Hollande. They became friends, close enough so that Ségolène Royal, the mother of Hollande’s four children, noticed and expressed her displeasure. Trierweiler describes a scene where she was talking with Hollande at a restaurant and Mme Royal approached their table to ask what was going on. At the time, there was no romantic relationship between the two, and Trierweiler said as much, to which Royal said “stop farting around with me.” After describing this passage, Trierweiler commented ruefully that Royal was not wrong in her inferences. It was not long afterward that Hollande began to pursue her in earnest, and she fell in love with him.
One of the most startling revelations of the book is the disdain that Hollande privately expressed for poor people – calling them “sens-dents” – toothless, apparently several times, and proud of his humor. Another was his taste for expensive items and luxurious dining. Almost as shocking is the contempt he expressed for her family – “pas jojo, la famille Massonneau” – not so pretty, your family. Another gem is when, in the Elysée, he told her that her only role was to look beautiful. In sum, Hollande comes across as a jerk.
A jerk, but evidently charming enough to her to fall in love with. She writes freely about that, without rancor. He was a great raconteur, good with constituents and crowds, and, when he wanted to be, an attentive and passionate companion for Valérie. She wound up divorcing her husband and living with Hollande for several years while he was in the political wilderness.
Hollande decided to run for the Socialist nomination for 2012, despite the general notion that the inevitable nominee would be Dominique Strauss-Kahn. However, in 2011 this rival was eliminated by the notorious sex scandal that broke out in New York City, when Strauss-Kahn was charged with rape by a chambermaid in an expensive hotel.
With Hollande’s election to the Presidency, his relationship with Trierweiler cooled. He was busy and did not want her involved in his political affairs except in a very limited capacity as First Lady. He did not consult her or notify her in advance of decisions, even about things that she had been asked to be involved in. And then he struck up a relationship with the actress Julie Gayet, which lasted a year, producing rumors that he denied to Trierweiler, until the French online magazine Closer published a photograph of him in a motorscooter helmet in the wee hours of the morning in front of Gayet’s apartment building.
This book is about personal pain, and Trierweiler is unsparing about her own behavior as well as Hollande’s. An example is her description of deliberately forcing Ségolène Royal to shake hands with her in public. The book is well written, as would be expected from a professional reporter with her credentials. (Nonetheless there have been suggestions in the press that she had a ghost-writer, or that her editor Laurent Beccaria insisted on cutting some potentially libelous statements about Ségolène Royal, charges that Beccaria has denied in print). The picture is of people in high positions in society behaving badly, trivially, inflicting and suffering emotional damage. I came away feeling sympathy for Trierweiler, but note that others have had the opposite reaction, with sympathy for Hollande! From her point of view, though, she had a decent job and home, a husband and three young children, and in response to Hollande’s advances, gave all that up to live with him long before he had a visible chance of becoming President. His success, which many thought was her motivation for attaching herself to him, was to her the cause of their breakup.
The final revelation, really surprising, is that earlier this year, after the rupture, he began sending her text messages asking her to come back. Now clearly this is something for which she would be able to produce evidence in case she needs to. The ending of the book provides its title:
“The time has come to close this narrative, written with my tears, my insomnias, and my memories, some of which still burn me. Thanks for this moment, thanks for that crazy love, thanks for the trip to the Ëlysée. Thanks also for the chasm into which you have dropped me. You taught me a lot about yourself, others, and myself. From now on I can move and strive, without fear of the regard of others, without begging for yours. I want to live, to write other pages of this strange book, this singular voyage that is the life of a woman. This will be without you. I was neither married, nor protected. I can only have been loved as much as I have loved.”
The last sentence poses an eternal problem of couples: the balance of affection. She seems to say that she could not have expected more love than she was willing to give. The rest of the book certainly makes the case that during the time approaching the rupture of their relationship she got less.
In the end, with Hollande once again pursuing her with text messages, she is burned and unwilling to go back, convinced that his character will never change, that life with him would be a return to lies, humiliation and eventual abandonment.
She insists that her story is true – that she was too much a victim of lies to resort to them in turn. And if so, it is certainly understandable why she feels the way she does about Hollande.