By Julie Couillard
Translated Michael Gilson
McClelland & Stewart,
319 pages, $29.99
Femme fatale? Hell hath no fury like Julie Couillard's scorn for former lover Maxime Bernier. It burns through the 319 pages of My Story: "He ruined my life." This is her revenge. She depicts him as weak ("You really have no balls at all"), lazy, vain, superficial, two-faced; a compulsive skirt-chaser who badmouths Stephen Harper and his own constituents in the Beauce. She even has Canada's minister of foreign affairs predicting Quebec's separation as inevitable: "It doesn't frighten me at all, that's where we're headed. And I have no problem with that, I'm ready. I'm expecting it."
The woman seduced and betrayed is a commonplace of literature. But when it happens again and again and again? Julie Couillard is no Anna Karenina. She's unlikely to have read Tolstoy's novel and would certainly prefer that Bernier, and not she, be thrust under the wheels of a train. A closer fit is Justine, the constantly abused heroine of the novel of that name by the Marquis de Sade; she never learns from her calamities. Before she met Bernier, Couillard had been mistreated by almost all the many men in her life. The exception, Gilles Giguère - "the love of my life" - ended up dead with six bullets in his back.
Her father: a drunken bum, never home, a philanderer with creditors constantly hounding his family. Later he almost made her lose her house, which she had loaned to him; he didn't pay the taxes. "I felt utterly betrayed by my father," she writes. "I haven't seen or spoken to him since.
The first man she lived with defrauded her, when she was 19, of $20,000. The second, a bouncer at a strip club, tried to strangle her, stalked her and threatened any man who approached her. She had a mafia acquaintance speak to him. "Norman got the picture."
She married a full-patch member of the Rockers motorcycle club who, lazy, always drunk and high on pills, bilked her for many thousands of dollars before he became a police informer. "He never understood me," she says of this "small-time bum."
She founded a construction company, but a property manager defrauded her of $40,000. Another business partner absconded and left her owing $25,000. Another lover-cum-business-partner turned against her, drove her out of business, then committed suicide.
She had a five-year business-and-sex relationship with a millionaire entrepreneur who had a wife and children. "Sylvain wasn't even my type"; he was stingy, but he kept promising to divorce and live with her. He never did.
She had an abortion; she declared personal bankruptcy. All this and more before meeting Maxime Bernier.
While taking a course to renew her long-lapsed real-estate agent's licence, she was picked up in a bar one evening by Philippe Morin, the co-chairman of a real estate development company called Kevlar. They chatted, drank, danced until four-thirty. After more meetings, "we soon took things to the next level." He claimed he was separated and leaving his wife, but soon reconsidered: "Maybe there's still a chance I can save my family after all."
Through another bar acquaintance, she met Bernard Côté, the senior special assistant to then-public works minister Michael Fortier. Côté called her on her cellphone as she was sitting in a bar with Morin and his Kevlar co-chairman, René Bellerive. When the two businessmen understood whom she was chatting with, they were impressed. They were then bidding for a big federal real-estate development project in Quebec City: "Bernard Côté is the guy who handles all that. So it would be great for us to have someone who's on good terms with a guy like him." They offered her a contract to represent Kevlar on the project.
That led to her meeting Bernier. Kevlar sponsored a small reception to which the minister was invited. The partners made sure she was there early to meet him, along with "four young women whom Philippe had brought along. They were very pretty, rather scantily clad, and quite alluring." You get the picture. They got along so well that Maxime kissed her, and then invited her for a last drink at the bar of his hotel.
The rest is history. They almost immediately became lovers and his "proposal" - that she commit to being his companion for a year, no matter what, for appearances' sake - was hardly a declaration of true love. But she accepted. She became an instant celebrity as the curvaceous beauty on his arm at his swearing-in ceremony. She got to chat with Laura Bush and have her picture taken with George Bush, and consorted with dozens of ambassadors and their wives. Meanwhile, she earned her living promoting economic development projects. She doesn't say whether her new prominence brought her important clients.
But it all came crashing down. Bernier kept chasing other women. His ardour seemed to cool. When the revelation of her previous amorous links to criminals became public, he dropped her. She insists he could have protected her from the storm of publicity and scurrilous gossip. He did nothing but try to distance himself from her.
Her problem? She's a woman: "If this story had been about a man in a relationship with a female cabinet minister, no one would ever have said the things that were said about me." Oh?
Fortunately, Bernier left behind "secret" papers in her kitchen. Rather than return them to him, she consulted a lawyer, who told her that he would be sacked as minister if it became public. She announced her finding on TV, he was fired and she now had standing to publish a book, ghost-written by former TV journalist Serge Demers (the French title is Mon Histoire). "Here I had a chance to show the world the real me," she writes.
For those concerned about the future of Maxime Bernier, this book is a must. Those who relish pulp fiction and soap operas will find it a treat. But if you have read Anna Karenina, it's definitely not for you.
Journalist and author William Johnson ghost-wrote The Informer, the memoirs of Carole Devault, the woman who infiltrated the Front de Libération du Québec in the 1970s as a police informer.