Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Review : The Little Girl and the Cigarette - Benoit Duteurtre 8*

Although Duteurtre has written ten novels, though only this novel has been translated into English.  Duteurtre tells two stories in alternating chapters, a man condemned to death for murder captures the fickle attention of the public when his request for a final cigarette delays his execution as the health and safety obsessed prison governers seek a way for him to smoke without breaking health laws and harming his guards, and an office worker employed by the city council blunders into trouble when illegally smoking in the toilets.

As the prisoner achieves fame and the backing of the tobaco companies, the office worker finds himself in a Kafka like situation, as he sits smoking, pants around his ankles so that any parkers nosy enough to peer under the door will believe he is using the toilet cubicle for its intended purpose, a small girl pushes into the occupied stall.  The worker is rude to the child, who then in turn accuses him of a sexual assault which never happened, and his life dissolves as the accusation turns in to a formal investigation.

In Duteurtre's dystopian world, children have achieved a tyranny by be allowed to run loose in all places of work, their wants and needs are seent o be paramount to those of the adults, and because of the misplaced belief that "children cannot lie" the office worker finds himself hopelessly trapped and railroaded towards an outrageous and false conclusion.

Duteurtre has so many targets in this novel, which he attacks with glee, that he hardly has enough time to expand upon one idea before moving on to his next, health and safety culture, the obsession with children's rights over adults, religion, patriotism, celebrity culture and reality television all come in for broad, and occasionally precise, attacks.  In this free and democratic new world, the shifting vagaries of public opinion are all important, far more important than common sense or reasoned and intelligent argument.

The Little Girl is an entertaining read with some thought provoking passages, although the setting is as dark as Orwell or Kafka, there is a thick streak of black humour running through the novel.  Duteurtre sees many of the whims and obsessions of modern life and inflates them into blackly comic monsters, this isn't a perect novel, but highly enjoyable and I do look forward to more of his work being translated.


  1. Squirt4:38 pm

    Sounds good... can I borrow?

  2. I got it from the library.