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The Little Girl and the Cigarette [Paperback]

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Item description for The Little Girl and the Cigarette by Benoit Duteurtre...

A wicked satire about the chaos that results when there's a rule for everything.

In the over-legislated world of this outrageous black comedy, a death-row inmate becomes a darling of the media-- and the tobacco conglomerates--after he demands his right to a final cigarette . . . in a smoke-free prison. Meanwhile, a little girl accuses a petty municipal bureaucrat of sexual perversion when she catches him sneaking a cigarette. Incredulously, he realizes that in this world where children are not just kings, but tyrants, a cigarette could lead him to the electric chair.

At the cutting edge of European fiction, controversial young author Benoît Duteurtre creates a world wildly askew, yet disconcertingly close to our own, in this daring, antic satire.

"What I admire most about The Little Girl and the Cigarette: the clarity with which this novel unmasks the fundamental stupidity of our modern world; the black humor that transforms horror into a fascinating danse macabre."
—Milan Kundera

"Duteurtre is a cultural bomb thrower."
International Herald Tribune

"The novel goes down swinging—it gets its excited jabs in at everything from the nanny state to the way that children rule the adult world like tiny tyrants."
—Paul Constant, The Stranger

"A fascinating...fable of the terrifying power of public opinion."

"Duteurtre suggests that our obsession with children is pure narcissism—we outlaw our freedoms not because we love children but because we want to be them. And when we rebel, we do it because we long for the reassurance that having boundaries gives. It is maddening to watch this bureaucrat refuse to acknowledge his own childish behavior—like puffing secretly upstairs in a relative's nonsmoking home—as he rails against everyone else. On one hand, you empathize with his fight for personal liberties. On the other, you wish he'd just grow up and behave. Ultimately, he comes off as whiny, self-absorbed and unsympathetic. But this is precisely the point: We can see him no other way."
—Karrie Higgins, The Los Angeles Times

"As an unfiltered hit of misanthropy, the book goes down strong and bitter, leaving behind a craving for more."
—David Ng, The Village Voice

"Both funny and unsettling."
Chicago Reader

"A joy to read, as much as it is alarming."
Le Monde

An anarchic and controversial figure in France, Benoît Duteurtre (Ben-wha Du-tert) became a writer after Samuel Beckett praised his early work. Duteurtre has written fifteen novels and been awarded the coveted Prix Medici, his work acclaimed by Milan Kundera and media philosopher Guy Dubord alike. The great-grandson of French President René Coty, Duteurtre is also the host of his own radio talk show, “Astonish Me, Benoît.” His work has been translated into thirteen languages. His novel Customer Service is also available from Melville House.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   188
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.3" Width: 5.3" Height: 0.7"
Weight:   0.35 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 1, 2007
Publisher   Melville House
ISBN  1933633123  
ISBN13  9781933633121  

Availability  0 units.

More About Benoit Duteurtre

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Winner of the prestigious Prix Medici award, and author of 11 novels translated in 13 languages, Duteurtre has been acclaimed by Milan Kundera for his edgy, incisive humor, and called "a cultural bomb thrower" for his satiric take on modern life.

Benoit Duteurtre was born in 1960.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary

Reviews - What do customers think about The Little Girl and the Cigarette?

nicely done  Oct 2, 2007
very entertaining book. dark humour and wit, a nice length for a book, not one of those harry potter dictionary types thank god. not your feel good story but definitely worth a read.
Satire Sans Teeth  Apr 23, 2007
Although this author of ten novels is apparently "an anarchic and controversial figure" in his native France, and admired by intelligentsia from Samuel Beckett to Milan Kundara to Guy Debord, Duteurtre has yet to appear in English until now. Unfortunately, it's a very thin introduction, as the story wades into the quicksand of social satire, only to be quickly bogged down by its own heavy-handedness.

Set in a nameless contemporary Western city combining elements of Europe with elements of the U.S., the story's two main threads are told in alternating chapters. The first concerns a death-row inmate whose last request is to smoke a cigarette. This throws the legal system into a quandary, since smoking is forbidden in prison, but prisoners' last wishes must be followed. Wackiness ensues, as various contingents line up on either side of the issue, and the case is sent to the
Supreme Court (which isn't the slightest bit interested in reviewing the flimsy case that actually put the man on death row). This plotline is neither particular funny or insightful or scathing, or...much of anything.

It's the second plotline that takes up the bulk of the book and provides slightly more for the reader to chew on. In it, a middle-aged civil servant wants nothing more from life that to be left in piece to enjoy the epicurean idyll: a quiet life with his dog, common-law wife, good food, good films, good books, and a smoke every now and then. Strict anti-smoking policies at work, as well as the conversion of some of his workplace into a daycare facility, combine in an unfortunate event which results in his being falsely accused of pedophilia. Here, the novel's central theme comes to the fore: the notion that the rise of the over-regulated nanny-state and the social primacy given to children (based on the psychological desire to return to carefree childhood) are combining to strip away the rights of adults while simultaneously granting children the run of society.

This is all spun out in a rather clumsy attempt at satirizing Kafkaesque bureaucratic fascism, which condemns the man based on his refusal to take an interest in children. There's more than a little post-9/11 commentary going on here, especially in a scene in which a police investigator tells the man that even if he hasn't done anything yet, his attitude is a clear sign that he might, and so he should be locked away or executed as a preemptive measure. The book's ultimate thesis becomes explicit on 146, where the civil servant declares "it's the adult man, the forty or fifty-year-old man who needs the most support, because of the way everyone scorns him." The unspoken addition to that is "white", and American readers will very quickly recall the great "angry white male" demographic of the mid-1990s. What's not particularly clear is whether Duteurtre is satirizing this sentiment or endorsing it -- interpretation becomes particularly tricksy when one realizes that Duteurtre is himself the very age of his protagonist.

Satire is among the hardest genres to pull off effectively, and it's never realized in any palpable fashion in the book's two main plots. Oddly enough, it does emerge is in a late subplot about an terrorist group which launches its own internet-streamed reality show in which a group of Western hostages competes in a kind of "Survivor" meets "American Idol" contest called "A Martyr Idol." This is easily the most scathing and intelligent part of the book, as the global public gets caught up in the media event, voting by cell phone for the hostage closest to themselves -- with the monthly loser literally losing their head. If the rest of the book was as provocative as this it would be a winner, but alas, far too much of it is pedestrian fare.
loved it, but what a world we live in, here!  Mar 29, 2007
The two other reviewers passed over a very important fact of the book. The author was born in 1960, therefore is 46-47 years old and besides the smoking bans and the false accusations of child molestation we have all witnessed since the 1980s,(remember Minnesota), this book is a big plea for the forgotten middle-age man, 45 to 50 years old. The kids, the old, the women, all have special places in society, but men whom I would say are emasculated in american society - (and yes this is taking place in America and not just anywhere - no one else in the First World has the death penalty. And yes, I am a woman) have no special rights and all responsibilities and are always the ones at fault (working too much or absent, etc.
I have not been a bit surprised by the plots. It happens everyday all over the States - just read the papers. But to see it presented this way, I just can't wait to read all the other books from this author and I hope they are all as good. It is a quick read, but it packs a punch.
Modern-Day Cult of the Child Is Satirized  Mar 9, 2007
In an arch, assured style, Duteurtre alternates two plots, one of a death-row prisoner putting a cog in the legal system by demanding his right to a final cigarette before his execution and an adult intellectual who feels at odds in a world where children are worshipped as gods. Duteurtre uses these two plots as vehicles for his real agenda: to satirize modern day's love of political correctness, utopian-visioned do-gooders, absurd legalism, and a society so bereft of ideals and so soggy-brained that its only "religion" is the adoration of the child, as a sort of symbol of society's replenishment and renewal. The satire is never forced or obvious, as too many books that attempt humor are guilty of. Instead, the author effortlessly weaves his satirical themes into his narrative so that the book mirrors our modern day absurdities with crystal clear vision and gives us a facile story at once. As this is the first book of many to be translated into English, I must either learn French or wait eagerly for Duteurtre's other books to be translated.
"The Children Are Running The Asylum"  Mar 8, 2007
Although this satirical tale is occasionally forced or given to swiping at too easy targets, in its central thrust it's undeniably successful. Using a deadpan satiric approach, Duteurtre ponders the last two remaining sins in our post-industrial, developed world. Here, where good health is the primary duty of life and children have replaced the gods, cigarette smoking has become one of the greatest evils. In first place, though, is child molestation, whether real or just merely alleged. In a society which worships the child, and therefore turns out to be pretty much run by children, the charge of such abuse becomes itself indistinguishable from the deed and is thought equally deserving of the ultimate punishment. It is the author's winning satirical insight that a contemporary moppet might be smart enough to make a false accusation against an adult out of mere vengefulness but be believed as an honest reporter of dire events. What other conclusion could one expect from ignorant grownups clinging tenaciously to a perverse belief in the natural goodness of children?

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