The journalist, the minister, his wife and her lover: a novel

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The Independent Online

A book published in France this week looks much like any other romantic novel. The title is Entre le Coeur et la Raison (Between Heart and Reason). The style is reminiscent of the magazine Private Eye's spoof romantic novelist Sylvie Krin.

The cover carries a picture of a tall, elegant woman in a black, cocktail dress, carrying a bunch of pink roses. Never, however, judge a book by its cover, especially in France.

The novel, written by the journalist Valérie Domain, is a "fictionalised reworking" of her book, Cécilia, Entre le Coeur et la Raison, which was withdrawn before publication last November. This book was a factual account of the marital problems of the Interior Minister, and possible future president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his wife, Cécilia.

M. Sarkozy objected to the book, on the grounds that it infringed French law protecting private lives. Mme Sarkozy had, it was reported, originally co-operated with the author but then changed her mind.

The publisher, First, withdrew the book, but Domain has now produced a novelised version, which has been published by Fayard.

France has a long tradition of such books. They are called romans à clef or "coded novels".

Officially, everything in Entre le Coeur et la Raison is fiction. The book even carries a prefaced warning by Domain: "This is a novel ... any resemblance with any real person is just a coincidence."

The woman at the heart of the novel, Célia Michaut-Cordier, who falls in love with a suave communications adviser from Montreal and leaves her husband, is therefore not Mme Sarkozy. (Last spring, Mme Sarkozy left her husband for a suave communications adviser, based in New York, but has since returned.)

Célia's, husband, Guillaume Michaut-Cordier, an ambitious politician, is not Nicolas Sarkozy. M. Sarkozy has been Interior Minister, Finance Minister and then Interior Minister again. The upwardly mobile politician in the book is Defence Minister, Education Minister and then Finance Minister.

One is told at the start of the book that the politician's enemies got wind of Célia's new romance and egged her on by presenting her with a dossier of her husband's extra-marital affairs.

But the enemies in question, we must accept, are people close to the fictional president in the novel. He is known always as "Charles Bis", or Charles the second, because he wants to be a second De Gaulle. No resemblance with any real president can be entertained.

In the novel, Célia is torn between her passion for a new man, Hervé, and her desire to be the first lady of France.

The beginning of the affair is described in pure Sylvie Krin syle. "These first hours in which Célia and Hervé gaze at one another and exchange remarks, sometimes useful, sometimes futile ... are already impregnated in warmth and unsuspected hopes ... Two people almost in their fifties are acting like students. Their first instincts are responsible. Their deeper insticts are irresponsible. Where professionalism should reign, passion takes over..."

At the end of the book, Célia is presented as a feminist heroine for ditching her lover and returning to her destiny, as French first lady. She discovers, however, that a female Socialist politician called Célimène Lecomte is challenging her husband's popularity in the polls. (This is not Ségolène Royal, who is challenging M. Sarkozy's popularity in the polls.)

The last line of the novel reads: "The question is no longer who will be first lady of France but will France, one day soon, have a woman as president?"

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