While Dominique Strauss-Kahn broods under guard in a downtown Manhattan apartment, the housekeeper who has accused the former head of the International Monetary Fund of sexual assault remains silent until she can speak in court. Another alleged victim, Tristane Banon, a 31-year-old French novelist and journalist, isn’t speaking to reporters, either. But that hasn’t always been the case. Banon has been trying to tell her story for years—through her fiction, in her interviews, on television broadcasts, and before a live audience. What she has said—and why everyone has heard but no one has listened—reveal much about la vie privée, la vie publique in France.
At the time of the alleged attack in 2002, Banon, who was then only 22, and DSK were hardly strangers. She was the goddaughter of his second wife and one of his daughter’s best friends. Tristane herself was the result of a union between her mother and a married man she has never met, a man she later described in one of her novels as naming her as a dog would by “peeing on a wall to establish its territory.” One wonders whether DSK, whom she alleges attempted to rape her during an interview for an early collection of interviews with powerful men called Admitted Mistakes, wasn’t one of the authoritarian fathers she observed as she grew up and later described in a popular French talk show. Banon later told Agora Vox: Citizens’ Media that she removed the chapter on DSK under pressure. “In this story, I wasn’t mean, I didn’t file a complaint, I pulled the chapter, I did everything he told me to do.”
The disturbing truths at the heart of the fiction that she subsequently wrote were shaped by the author’s own life. I Forgot to Kill Her, the title of Banon’s first novel, tracks the strained relations between Tristane and her mother Anne Mansouret, a longtime politico in Normandy. The book got a lot of attention, especially in venues such as Régine, where she signed copies by the coat check from 11 to 2 in the morning. But who, exactly, would the author like to kill in a book Banon readily describes as autobiographical? Her story features an ambitious, unflinching mother who chooses politics over maternity and leaves her child in the hands of a Moroccan nanny who drinks so much that her young charge learns to recognize the difference between Irish and Scottish whisky with her eyes closed. The more alcohol the nanny consumes, the more she beats her young charge, usually favoring the child’s back. Banon narrates this personal story in such a flat, featureless tone that a reader might never have suspected that the story was real.
Mansouret describes herself as “a mother, a matriarch, not a mommy” during her first television appearance with Banon in 2008. Mansouret’s short, backswept hair and chiseled face look harsh next to her daughter’s delicate features. Sweeping aside the blond hair that tumbles into her eyes, Banon describes a mother who is “cold, square,” a woman who made it clear that she “didn’t like children.” Yet this same woman is “pragmatic,” someone her daughter claims she would call as soon as she had a problem. The camera cuts away to stunning photographs of a younger Mansouret that fill Banon’s bedroom as she reaches over to touch the picture of her mother.