PARIS Stuck with dismal approval ratings for his presidential debut, France's Francois Hollande is now having his private life raked over in a series of books that dissect the alleged jealousy between his current and former companions.
Despite Hollande's insistence he wants his home life kept private, public interest has been rife since first lady Valerie Trierweiler sent a "killer tweet" in June that exposed the animosity between her and Segolene Royal, the president's partner up to mid-2007.
A book out this week describes how Hollande's flirtation with Trierweiler goes all the way back to the early 1990s and that in 2003 Royal warned the journalist, 11 years her junior, to stay away from her man, then head of the Socialist Party.
Two other new books pore over the long-running rivalry between Trierweiler and Royal, whom Hollande allegedly wavered about leaving but finally quit to set up home with Trierweiler following Royal's unsuccessful presidential bid in 2007.
None of the books contains scandalous revelations, but the constant raking-over of the messy love triangle does not help Hollande's image as he battles criticism that his soft-touch leadership style is proving ineffective.
Even left-wing media have accused Hollande of dilly-dallying in his first three months in office. Some commentators see the new books as reinforcing negative opinions of him.
"What we ask of men of power, and thus of presidents, is to show self-control beyond the average," psychologist Serge Hefez wrote in an editorial in weekly Le Nouvel Observateur about "L'Ex" ("The Ex"), a book by one of the magazine's editors.
"Torn in two, he struggles to master the twists and turns in his personal life and could thus, if faced with new dilemmas, show limits in his capacity to govern," Hefez said.
BE VERY CAREFUL
Hollande has returned from the summer break to a chorus of criticism and the steepest slide in popularity of any recent president, due in large part to a fresh surge in unemployment.
He is so concerned about a plunge in his ratings to as low as 44 percent and a perception that he is slow-acting that he this week ordered his ministers to sharpen their communication skills.
Magazines are reveling, however, in the juicy new books, which depict Trierweiler as obsessively jealous and Hollande as indecisive as he struggled with his early attraction to the reporter assigned to cover his party for Paris Match magazine.
"Whenever she appeared you would see Francois Hollande's gaze go dreamy," L'Ex quotes a political journalist who was often present in their company as saying.
The book says that in early 2003 Royal summoned Trierweiler and said: "You can guess why I've called you in. You are aware of the rumors," adding: "I have four children. Be very careful."
The romance between Hollande and Trierweiler allegedly began in earnest in 2005, and L'Ex says that Royal battled to have Trierweiler removed from her post to limit their contact.
The break-up of the Hollande-Royal couple was played out in the public eye, but interest in the drama has intensified since the night of Hollande's election when eagle-eyed TV viewers noted Trierweiler's glare as he kissed Royal on the cheek.
Her now infamous tweet, stating her support for a rival to Royal in a local election race, is still regarded as the biggest public relations gaffe of Hollande's three months in office.
People close to Trierweiler say she was sternly rebuked by Hollande, and she has kept a low profile ever since.
Government sources say Hollande is unruffled by the new books. "Hollande is unflappable. This business about the tweet is old history," one source told Reuters.
But the authors of a second tome, titled "Entre Deux Feux" ("Between Two Fires"), say Trierweiler's tweet has made their relationship fair game for examination.
Political commentator Pierre Haski, founder of the Rue 89 news website, agrees. "The first lady's tweet opened the floodgates," he said. "Things will never be the same again."
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; editing by Andrew Roche)