X20 by Richard Beard


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 Debut British novel about smoking (or not) that's a long nicotine fit gasping for a more smooth-flavored, high-tar story. To occupy his hands over a 20-day period of not smoking, Gregory Simpson writes 20 patchwork chapters rather than play with little paper tubes. Among his pains is the loss of the post-coital cigarette--his girlfriend Lucy informs him that for her smoking and not smoking is the difference between entry and no entry. Meanwhile, Gregory's next-door neighbor and best friend, tobacco researcher Dr. Julian Carr, phones, saying nothing, just to let Gregory listen to him smoke. Lucy herself often pops over to Julian's for a smoke . . . and whatever. She tries all manner of devices to get Gregory to inhale but at last leaves him when--after giving him her body--he refuses to join her in the p-c smoke. To forget her, Gregory goes off to Paris, gets a job in a library, and meets Ginny, a budding American opera singer who keeps her lungs pure for the art. Ginny is jealous of Gregory's ex-girlfriend, though, thinks only of him kissing Lucy's smoke-filled mouth and tarry lips, and at last smokes a cigarette to seduce the reluctant Gregory. He finally leaves her, however, and returns to London. Much of the novel concerns tobacco research by Gregory's close friends, a pair of doctors. Gregory, who once led the Suicide Club, valiant smokers aligned against LUNG antismokers, figures that during the next ten years of not smoking a pack a day he will not smoke 73,057 cigarettes (365 x 20 x 10), which includes two packs for leap years (20 x 2). Also in withdrawal, his dog Haemoglobin whines for dirty ashtrays and secondhand smoke. Very witty but utterly endless, like The Magic Mountain by S.J. Perelman.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1997
ISBN: 1-55970-399-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Arcade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1997


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