silence is not always golden

The president is silent

by Pauline Dreyfus

Grasset, 258 pages, €20.50

From October 9 to November 27, 1979, for forty-nine days, the President of the Republic Valéry Giscard d’Estaing maintained a silence that he himself described as “contemptuous” to accusations from the press. He allegedly received valuable diamonds from an African dictator, and no one knew how he used them. To the questions that everyone asked themselves, discovering the affair, the elected representative of the people, well planted in his Elysée, offered only a persistent silence as an answer, feeding the round of hypotheses, forging random certainties, reinforcing suspicions. . The absence is undoubtedly a ruse of power but this strategy can also turn against its initiator who, unwilling to intervene, allows rumors to settle and prosper.

From this “political news item”, which mobilized public opinion in the last century, Pauline Dreyfus has kitted out a skilful romantic machine, a fiction with twelve characters, who respond to each other without ever meeting and compose a very instructive picture of the France of that time. -the. A Portuguese immigrant, hired as an extra, observes the president during a reception at the embassy of his country the day before the devastating revelations of the chained duckan RG inspector on duty falls back into alcoholism, a feminist activist, a nightcluber who rubs shoulders with Baron Empain, a ruined lord forced to sell the family jewels and property, the head of protocol at the Elysée in charge to implement the illustrious tenant’s taste for monarchical precedence, and tutti quanti.

Halftone style and atmosphere

Each chapter ends with an unfinished sentence that resumes with the next character, accentuating the effect of the circulation of questions that spread through society. A former conquest of the president, an observer condemned to secrecy, is probably the only one able to understand the intimate recesses of this attitude which leaves society perplexed. And what she thinks of this impenetrable man remains the most relevant key to approaching his mystery.

“Silence makes talk”notes, with sagacity, a literary critic of The Express (we easily recognize Angelo Rinaldi) in a social dinner where he spreads his murderous sallies, at a time when the written press still held its rank. On stage, every evening, Thierry Le Luron puts the laughers on his side, hissing accent: “Bonchoir Michieurs, Bonchoir Mesdiams. » The president, now mocked, loses his aura.

Pauline Dreyfus opts for a halftone style and atmosphere to stick to the heady silence of VGE. She refines her singular gallery of characters to drill this strange black hole in the social cacophony. The King’s silence annoys, keeps society waiting for his word or at least answers to his questions. ” Politics, she writes, it was basically nothing else: a soap opera that keeps viewers spellbound. »

And when the president, pressed by his advisers, consents from the height of his greatness to say a few words – “We must let low things die of their own poison” – he will seal his fate. The frustration of a frank explanation, which will never come, will be paid for at the ballot box, a few months later. The president will lose the 1981 election, weighed down by “The Diamond Affair” and by the distance he had seen fit to maintain between himself and the people.

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