One and a half years before the French presidential elections the political climate in France is tense. Trust in François Hollande has long since ebbed away and a second term in office looks more than unlikely for him. So who will be his successor? While the question is hotly debated in politics and the media, in literary circles things are already a step ahead and answers are forthcoming. The most recent suggestion is from historian François Durpaire and this favours Marine Le Pen. Since 12 November his graphic novel La Présidente has been in circulation… and everybody is talking about it. Displayed on the front cover is a smiling Marine Le Pen at her new workplace in the Elysée palace. “They’ve behaved towards me exactly like Sarkozy behaved towards you in 2012. One ought never to underestimate one’s opponent and certainly not the French”, she advises, with hands folded in a presidential manner, to a visibly despairing Hollande.
Is all of this just fiction? No way, explains the author, “I don’t want to spread fear. I’m really convinced that Marine Le Pen will be elected in 2017.” His graphic novel is in a corresponding documentary style, precisely drawn and entirely in black and white. To reproduce reality as accurately as possible the dialogues quote literally from sections of the National Front party programme. France’s exit from the EU and Nato, a veto on immigration for migrants, expansion of nuclear energy… His message is ‘look here, from 2017 this is how our country will shape up’, and he throws this back in the face of the French three weeks before regional elections in which Marine Le Pen is considered the favourite.
The prelude for this trend of ‘political anticipation’ in literature emerged early this year with Michel Houellebecq and his scandal novel Soumission. Having described Islam as the “most stupid religion of all” back in in 2001, of all people he imagines in this work how from 2022 France will be governed by an Islamist. With the backing of the right and left-wing this figure wins out against the far-right Marine Le Pen, thus setting the seal on the demise of the French Republic in favour of an Islamic religious state.
Many people condemned this scenario as dangerous and inflammatory. Houellebecq and his islamophobic fantasies were paving the way for Le Pen. However, the writer invoked his entitlement to fiction or objected that none of this was a provocation. Indeed, he was not claiming anything incorrect, but merely summarized a development that he regarded as probable.
By contrast the French journalist Geoffroy Lejeune considers an entirely different scenario likely. In his novel published in early September, Une élection ordinaire (An Ordinary Election), the right-wing conservative Figaro journalist, Eric Zémmour takes over power. Zémmour’s theories about French cultural and identity loss in the wake of globalization are currently receiving plenty of attention. “France’s one man Pegida”, is how DIE ZEIT describes him. Zémmour, of all people, according to Lejeune will win out in 2017. In particular, against the opponents in his own political camp whose rhetoric is often no longer easy to tell apart from that of Marine Le Pen. “A shocker who is shuffling the cards among the right-wing all over again”, is the verdict in the online edition of Nouvel Observateur. “Zémmour for President? Is that a tall story? asks the journal and suggests, “unfortunately, it’s not so exaggerated in a France that’s prepared to surrender to a new guru.”
And after the publication of La Présidente the debate will flare up again about the meaning and consequence of such ‘prophetic literature’. One thing is for certain: the books are achieving excellent sales. The Parisian publisher Les Arènes will now definitely land a new bestseller with this graphic novel after the publication of Valérie Trierweiler’s scandal-raking book Thank You for This Moment in which the ex-girlfriend of the French President settles old scores with Hollande.
By Katja Petrovic
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright