French voters go to the polls this Sunday for the first round in their presidential election, and again two weeks later for the second round. Here are six books on France and politics to get you thinking
Paris, 1980. Roland Barthes has just come from lunch with Francois Mitterrand, a slippery politician locked in a battle for the Presidency, when he is hit by a laundry van in a Paris street and dies soon afterwards. But was it an accident? Barthes was carrying a document explaining the seventh function of language – an idea so powerful it gives whoever masters it the ability to convince anyone, in any situation, to do anything. In the world of intellectuals and politicians, everyone is a suspect and truth itself is at stake. The 7th Function may be funny and playful, but it is also a clever and eye-wateringly sharp look at the uses and abuses of power. Binet himself is no stranger to politics, having spent time on the campaign trail with Francois Hollande in the run up to France’s 2012 election.
Édouard Louis grew up in Hallencourt, a village in northern France where many live below the poverty line. The End of Eddy is inspired by his own childhood, growing up gay in a homophobic, right-wing society that has been failed by the establishment. Written with an arresting openness and compassionate intelligence, it asks how we can create our own freedom. Still in his early twenties, Louis has sparked national debate with his first book.
Houellebecq is known for his incendiary writing, and is his 2015 novel Submission does not disappoint. It’s 2022 and the French are going to the polls again. The front runners are Marine Le Pen of the National Front and Muhammed Ben Abbes of the growing Muslim Fraternity. Forming a controversial alliance with the political left to block the Front National’s alarming ascendency, Ben Abbes sweeps to power and the country is transformed overnight. French secularism is cast off as Islamic law comes into force: women are veiled, polygamy is encouraged and, for our narrator François – misanthropic, middle-aged and alienated – life is set on a new course. This is a devastating satire, comic and melancholy, and a profound meditation on faith and meaning in Western society.
From French fiction to a manifesto: On Tyranny started life as a Facebook post that Snyder wrote just after the 2016 US election. As the Observer put it: "These 128 pages are a brief primer in every important thing we might have learned from the history of the last century, and all that we appear to have forgotten". Today, we are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to totalitarianism in the twentieth century. But when the political order seems imperilled, our advantage is that we can learn from their experience to resist the advance of tyranny.
Should the French even be voting? Contrary to what you might think, the original purpose of elections was to exclude the people from power by appointing an elite to govern over them. For most of its 3000-year history, democracy did not involve elections at all: members of the public were appointed to positions in government through a combination of volunteering and lottery. Based on studies and trials from around the globe, this manifesto presents the practical case for a true democracy – could this be the future?
What really goes on when Europe’s leaders meet behind closed doors? This is Yanis Varoufakis’ account of his attempt to renegotiate Greece’s membership of the EU. It’s an extraordinary tale of brinkmanship, hypocrisy, collusion and betrayal that will shake the deep establishment to its foundations. With Le Pen campaigning on the premise of taking France out of the EU if she wins, this is a timely book that reminds us of that institution’s role, both in the past and in the present.