Friday, May 12, 2000

X20: A Novel Of (Not) Smoking

by Richard Beard

Gregory, the narrator, is a smoker trying to quit, writing to distract his mind and occupy his hands. It is told in 20 parts, like a packet of cigs. As the nuances and twists in his tale - of betrayal, lost love, becoming a smoker, asserting one's the right to take chances - become clearer, his paragraphs grow longer, his purpose stronger... perhaps.

This is an astonishing debut, written when Beard was 29. It's masterfully constructed, each new facet of the story coming to light at precisely the right time, to shock, delight and annoy. It is very often hilarious, sometimes sad. And it's also a philosophical study on free will and responsibility. Love, hubris, and the search for truth: vintage stuff.

four stars