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France

Scorn as French culture minister admits 'no time for books'

© Canal+ screengrab | Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin admists she doesn't have time to read

Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2014-10-27

When French novelist Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize for literature earlier in October, the country’s Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin said it showed the “influence and vitality of French literature in the eyes of the world”.

But in an interview with Canal+ on Sunday, Pellerin was forced to admit that she had never read any of the acclaimed French author’s novels.

“I haven’t had time to read anything in the last two years except for a lot of notes, legislative texts and news wires,” she said.

Not many people outside France had ever heard of Modiano when he was presented with his prize.

But in France, the culture minister is expected to be a beacon of the country’s cultural achievements.

And for many, a complete ignorance of France’s top literary laureate is an unforgivable sin.

Writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, who is on the jury for France’s prestigious Goncourt literature prize, told France Inter radio that Pellerin’s lack of knowledge was “shameful”.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “It is a culture minister's political duty to delve into literature. It is not possible that she hasn’t read a single Modiano novel. It is lamentable, but then we live in an era when culture is not taken seriously at all.”

Writing in the Huffington Post on Monday, commentator Claude Askolovitch said Pellerin’s failure to stay tuned in to the country’s literary achievements was “barbarian” and called on the minister to resign.

“If you can be a culture minister without reading books, what we are reduced to [culturally] are technicalities and budgets,” he wrote. “Nothing will uplift us, the soul is an illusion and all the great works are reduced to less than the minutes of a cabinet meeting.”

What annoyed Askolovitch even more was that Pellerin had not even bothered to pretend: “She isn’t the slightest bit interested in Modiano."

He added: “She didn’t bother to look up one book, or a single phrase, to make it look like she knows about him. She didn’t even want to pretend.”

Pellerin, 42, became culture minister in August following a cabinet reshuffle, having previously served as a junior minister for tourism and external trade as well as being responsible for promoting small and medium-sized businesses, innovation and the digital economy.

French news site lepoint.fr on Monday called for the overworked minister to be given a break.

“We should welcome her frankness in telling us that a minister’s schedule leaves little place for the calm needed to enjoy reading,” the site said in an editorial.

“In not mugging up on notes about the author, she spared us from a lie.”

 

Date created : 2014-10-27

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