Posted in the monsoon of 2014.
According to Fantastic Fiction, here’s a concise description of one of the best opening premises I’ve ever read :
“A death row inmate becomes a darling of the media when he demands his right to a final cigarette in a smoke-free prison.” All hell breaks loose when the authorities must decide which law is more sacred : granting the last wish of a dying man or upholding the rules of public property.
From here on, the plot progresses with alacrity. In the very next chapter, a junior bureaucrat sneaks out of his office to steal a forbidden smoke and finds himself accused of sexual perversion by a little girl who offers him a light.
Benoit Duteurtre’s The Little Girl And The Cigarette (described by Milan Kundera as “a work of astounding clarity in the way it unmasks the stupidity of the modern world”), holds a mirror to a society so overrun by regulation and political correctness that literally nothing makes any sense at all.
The Little Girl And The Cigarette is literary satire at its most delicious. It could only have been written by someone French (which it has been) and it reminds me of the reason I love France so much – it’s the only country in the world where I haven’t felt shamed for the pleasure of smoking, and where I haven’t been guilted for my disinterest in children.
In a world that chastises even the most mindful of smokers (the kind who make sure not to risk the health of others as and when they light up), in a world where an adult’s democratic right of choice is at the mercy of juvenile moral policing, in a world where instant condemnation seems to precede all reasonable debate, in a world where conscious individuality is sacrificed, over and over again, to serve the tyranny of the “larger public good”, what is a free human being and does s/he even exist?
The novel does a slyly good job of exposing the illusion that is personal liberty.