Marc Dugain ‘L’emprise’

In this the first book L’emprise in the The Power trilogy (Trilogie de L’emprise) Marc Dugain’s Takes us in a romanticised no holds barred vision of the conquest of modern political power in France, doing for French politics what Michael Dobbs did for British imagepolitics at the end of the 80’s with his House of Cards trilogy so well reviewed, refreshed and revisited by Kevin Spacey. Dobbs tells us about the genesis of his trilogy:

Conservative Party Headquarters, 1987. A week before election day I was Margaret Thatcher’s chief-of-staff. She was about to win a record third election but Maggie had been persuaded by a combination of a rogue opinion poll and uncharacteristic nervousness that she might lose. She hadn’t slept properly for days, had a raging toothache and insisted that someone else should suffer. That someone was me. On a day that became known as ‘Wobble Thursday’ she stormed, she blew up a tempest, she was brutally unfair. Her metaphorical handbag swung at me time and again. I was about to become another footnote in history. When we left the room, that wise old owl and Deputy Prime Minister, Willie Whitelaw, rolled his eyes and declared, ‘That is a woman who will never fight another election.’ He’d spotted the seeds of self-destruction that all too soon would become apparent to the entire world. As I sat beside my swimming pool, Willie’s words were still ringing in my ear. I reached for my pen and my bottle of wine. Three bottles later I thought I had found my character –his initials would be FU –and a plot. About getting rid of a prime minister. So Francis Urquhart and House of Cards was born.

Here 25 years later and in France, Dugain tells us that the state of the political machine has become more extreme but that due to a certain deference in the media, wealth and power are free to act together in total impunity:

‘In France we think we are a large democracy able to give lessons to the whole world, but the reverence shown towards power is still such that nobody dares to talk. It’s got to a point where certain journalists have got to saying that the only way to expose What is really going on in our politico-industrial class is through the novel, which remains the only method of expression which is almost free from attack.’***

So having set the scene, into the review. L’emprise is part of my French lit targets for 2016.

We follow from the start the battle between the two right wing opposition politicians, Launay the lifetime politician who has worked hard throughout his career to stay clean and his rival Lubiak who has captured all of his parties illegal type funding but has ensured that everything is handled offshore to avoid traceability. Lubiak is in politics for personal enrichment and had powerful foreign backers. Launay under pressure proposes at one point that should Lubiak desist in his idea of a party primary then he Launay would pledge to only do one term in power. His advisor analyses this and as such delivers an indictement of modern politics

‘- If I were him I’d say no.
– Why?
– The country is sinking, slowly and durably. The conservative forces are so strong that nobody can put things right in five years. Therefore even if you do well, the people will reject you at the end of your five year term. And if Lubiak is in your slipstream, he will suffer the same fate…..He will try to destroy you without hurting the party. The principal of the neutron bomb.’***

This takes place against a background of fusioning of the French electrical distribution company, La Française d’électricité, and the nuclear power company, Arlena, including the replacement of the female head of Arlena, mirroring actual events in France.

Other events closely resemble actual  happenings in France, fishing boats sunk by submarines, the installation of incinerators amid rumours of corruption that emit large quantities of dioxins dangerous for people living nearby etc. In conclusion, a novel whose background has enough recognisable events to enhance the believability of the main story.

Of course as this is a trilogy, there is a winner, but as this is politics, no one wins without leaving some of their soul along the way with debts that will be called in later. What you mean? Our politicians don’t belong entirely to themselves when they arrive in power?

First Published in French as “L’emprise” by Gallimard in 2014
*** My translation

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