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The Little Girl and the Cigarette

by Benoit Duteurtre

Set in a world where the Eurollar is the currency and cars cruise down Churchill Boulevard, the writing in this novel makes me feel rather queasy. Thought-provoking and very topical, two very different men live in a world where smoking is banned and young children rule their elders with an iron fist. One thing, however, does link them - the desire for a cigarette. A strange and interesting read, but a world I would rather read about than inhabit.

Extract

Thoughts like these are crossing my mind, this afternoon, in the fourth-floor bathroom of the municipal administration building where I've locked myself in to smoke a red Marlboro ('tar: 5mg; nicotine: .04mg; carbon monoxide: .5mg'). With my pants down, I drag happily on my cigarette and breathe the warm smoke deep into my lungs before exhaling. Last week, I finally succeeded in opening this sealed window, thanks to the screwdriver hidden in my pocket. This task took me several months, at the rate of a dozen or so minutes a day: I had to remove each screw, then scrape away the wood glue inch by inch, until the upright finally gave way. The secret smoker has to choose a well-ventilated area: although these tiny toilets don't have any smoke detectors, the smoke just has to go through the door to set off the hall alarm. So I always take the time to ventilate the place well and meticulously close the windows before I leave.
Up until last year, a few smoking rooms still existed in the confines of Administration City. Individuals who 'die prematurely' could be found there like outlaws, after they'd braved the scornful looks of their co-workers. But, ever since the children's nursery was extended to all the premises, ever since the kids become the privileged guests of this house, there's been no more question of tolerating the slightest risk of toxic smoke.
Translated by Charlotte Mandell

Parallels

1984 by George Orwell
For Your Own Good : The Anti-smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health by Jacob Sullum
 

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