A fable of "lucid irony." That's how French financial daily Les Echos summed up Le jour où la France a fait faillite (The Day France Went Bankrupt). The 363-page novel, co-authored by Philippe Jaffré, a former second-in-command at the French Treasury who is now senior vice president and strategic adviser at French engineering giant Alstom, and Philippe Riès, the Brussels bureau chief for Agence France-Presse, has sold a modest 10,000 copies since hitting French bookstores in October. But it has earned some high-profile, largely favorable reviews. Center-right newsweekly Le Point called it "fiction that has the advantage of being enlightening," while left-leaning L'Express dubbed it "biting satire."
The novel's premise: France's real-life Socialist presidential candidate, Ségolène Royale, is elected in the upcoming May election, hikes the minimum wage by 20 percent, then expands the country's civil service and entitlement programs despite rising interest rates and growing pension liabilities. Voilà: insolvency.
Jaffré, a former chairman of Crédit Agricole and of oil producer Elf Aquitaine, says he and Riès wrote the book as a wake-up call for France after reading a 2005 government report warning that the country faced insolvency by about 2025 if government spending continued to outpace revenues. "Fiction allows us to speed up events so that the consequences of overspending hit home with force," says Jaffré.
Indeed. In the novel, Nicolas Sarkozy -- the main conservative presidential candidate in the upcoming election -- defeats Royale in 2012. But two months later France is plunged into a debt crisis. Burdened by International Monetary Fundimposed austerity, the government sells the Mona Lisa to an ecstatic Chinese textile magnate for E275 million ($363 million). Later, Sarkozy is apparently assassinated by a bomb.
Royale has made no comment on the book, but Sarkozy sent Jaffré a note saying, "I hope it all remains fiction."