I’m a big fan of Antoine Laurain’s novels, having previously read The President’s Hat and The Red Notebook, both of which I found to charming and uplifting novels, and I was excited to receive a copy of his latest novel to be translated, Smoking Kills.
With the smoking ban in 2007, Fabrice Valentine finds himself no longer able to smoke in the office or in public places, and, as a smoker since the age of 17, begins to feel vilified by the non-smokers around him. Discovering that a friend has recently stopped smoking after visiting a hypnotist, Fabrice, with more than a little encouragement from his wife, also decides to give it a go. And initially it works – he no longer feels any urge to smoke.
Following a stressful situation at the office, however, he decides light up, but experiences none of the pleasure that he usually associates with smoking. That is until he accidentally causes a man’s death whilst acting in self-defence, and his next cigarette is the best one ever. The euphoria he experiences doesn’t last for long, however, and Fabrice is left wondering how far he must go to enjoy his next cigarette…
As you might expect from the title, Smoking Kills is a rather different novel to what I’ve come to expect from this author (which is only based upon the two aforementioned novels) although it does still carry a trace of humour throughout and this novel falls into the niche of black comedy. It’s not laugh out loud funny, but it does still carry the air of French whimsy, and I think that anyone who has enjoyed Laurain’s novels would enjoy this, as long as they don’t mind crossing over to the dark side for a while.
From the very first page, the reader knows where the novel is heading, and what the outcome will be for Fabrice. At approximately 200 pages, it’s quite a short novel, and so it surprised me by taking quite a long time to build up to what I considered to be the momentous turning point in Fabrice’s life. The background leading up to this point is by no means dull or uninteresting, and pace is kept reasonably high throughout – I was just expecting THAT incident to come earlier.
Fabrice is of course, an antihero, and whilst the reader can’t always approve of his acts – he is a murderer, after all – there are those among his victims who aren’t entirely innocent, and who are very difficult to feel any sympathy for. And I loved the ingenuity with which Fabrice goes on to carry out the acts that allow him to, temporarily at least, enjoy smoking again. Whilst many people might find a modus operandi and stick to it, Fabrice is happy to think outside the box, and to allow serendipity to play a part. And yes, the yellow frog on the cover is relevant, believe it or not.
This is a darkly comic novel, and one that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to those looking for something a little different whether they’re new to this author (and if you’ve not read The President’s Hat you really should) or already familiar with his work.
Smoking Kills will be published on 19 June by Gallic Press. Many thanks to Jimena Gorraez-Connolly for providing an early copy to read and review.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐