Smoking Kills by Antoine Laurain

smoking kills

For those of you familiar with my blog you may have spotted my new tagline.

I can assure you that there are oodles of books over 200 pages I would love to read but as an adorable new baby boy joined our family 4 months ago I really need to read most of a book in one sitting otherwise I will never reach the end!

I was very lucky to win a copy of Smoking Kills from Silvia at Book After Book and it was the first book I read after son #2 was born which means I’ll probably always remember it.
(Son #1 in 2014 = Burial Rites).

This novel comes in at slightly over the 200 page mark (224 pages) and I think Gallic Books made a wise choice at publishing small-ish and perfectly formed story.

When headhunter Fabrice Valentine faces a smoking ban at work, he decides to undertake a course of hypnotherapy to rid himself of the habit. He eventually finds himself lighting up again – but with none of his previous enjoyment.

Then he discovers something terrible: he accidentally causes a mans death, and needing a cigarette to calm his nerves, he enjoys it more than any other previous smoke. What if he now needs to kill someone every time he wants to properly appreciate his next Benson and Hedges?

This is a very witty (and very French) novel. It had me hooked from the start. The writing is sharp and Fabrice’s distinct and commanding voice also lured my husband in as he flipped through the first few pages.

I thought the bulk of the novel would be about the series of murders Fabrice commits but it is actually about his love affair with smoking. I wouldn’t guess this would be a topic that interests me but it had me smirking and giggling throughout.

It’s hard to share a lot of the plot other than to say it is a story about Fabrice’s journey with cigarettes coming full circle but in it you will find:

  • modern art
  • unusual murders (both impulsive and planned)
  • a charlatan hypnotist
  • a dire workplace team building exercise
  • herpetology, terraniums and rare frog species
  • a former CIA assasin turned blogger in his twilight years
  • the perfect and most fitting end to the story

Perhaps the best ending to a story I’ve come across for a while.

This list may make it sound like a whacky comedy trying to oudo its rivals but it is deadly serious (in cynicism) and cleverly written. Once you reach the end you realise the author has not included one superfluous detail.

I definitely plan to read more of Laurain’s novels. It’s one of those fine moments when I realise I have discovered a new author with a backlist of titles waiting for me.





Japanese Literature Challenge 9 Round Up


Today the Japanese Literature Challenge 9 draws to a close. Thank you Dolce Bellezza for hosting!

I planned to read eight books this year but only read seven. I did start and abandon an eigth – Mari Asakasa’s Vibrator. It was only short but I found the narrator’s world to be too disaffected and alienated for my liking. However, I can see why it won prizes in Japan.

My favourite reads this year were:

Audition by Ryu Murakami – absolutely fantastic! Hilarious and oh-so-wrong at the same time! Read it!

Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura – Very dark but also surprising.

Now You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami – Oh so very odd. Highly memorable.

To see the whole list click here.

I really enjoy this challenge and this year I got sidetracked from my reading list by stumbling over a few titles I hadn’t heard of before. Next year I hope to follow my original plan and work through the back catalogues of authors I have previously discovered in this challenge – Ryu Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, Yoko Ogawa and Keigo Higashino.


Don’t Expect Quirky: Strange Weather in Tokyo

strange weatherStrange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

Tsukiko is in her late 30s and living alone when one night she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, ‘Sensei’, in a bar. He is at least thirty years her senior, retired and, she presumes, a widower. After this initial encounter, the pair continue to meet occasionally to share food and drink sake. A tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance.

This was a pleasant* story but it didn’t really do it for me. Not only did I find it a bit slow, I felt I had read something vaguely similar before, namely Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor which was originally published four years earlier than this novel and I felt it to be the superior of the two. The general story of a friendship between an older man and not quite so young anymore woman seems to be particular to Japanese literature so I don’t think Kawakami necessarily borrowed the idea. I just didn’t want to take the journey a second time this year.

This novel also presents a also a perfect case study for not judging a book by its cover. The cover implies a somewhat quirky and offbeat tale yet it is rather conventional with characters older than you would presume (not that I have a problem with their ages!). I personally don’t think the title fits the story, yet the other English title, The Briefcase, doesn’t seem a perfect suggestion either.

I’ve been wanting to read this for a while and am glad I finally got around to it. Despite being well written it has left me a little underwhelmed but I can see why it would be both a good winner for the International Mann Booker Prize and a good** taster for Japanese fiction.

*I was almost going to call it a nice story yet it wasn’t quite that bland.

**Now I am using good a lot.