The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for giving up smoking


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Smoking, giving up

Cure: Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

Shorn of its final glimmer of glamour, smoking is now as bad for your image as it is for your health. But that doesn't make it any easier to give up. Increasingly, quitters are binning their nicotine patches and taking up vaping instead – that's e-cigarettes, for those not in the know. But they're expensive, and the side effects are as yet unknown. We urge die-hard smokers to turn to a more enduring cigarette substitute: a novel that allows you to revel in all the trappings of smoking – but with zero risk to your lungs.

Princess Leigh-Cheri is a member of a deposed European royal family living under the protection of the CIA in Seattle. Red-haired, liberal and a vegetarian, she meets charismatic outlaw Bernard Mickey Wrangle, aka The Woodpecker – also red-headed – on a flight to Hawaii, where Bernard has a date with some dynamite. They fall in love; but are almost immediately separated by prison bars when Bernard's explosives decimate the wrong target.

With no one to talk to and nothing to do, the princess locks herself in her attic and meditates for hours on the iconic pyramids and palm trees on her pack of Camels. Bernard, meanwhile, has an identical pack of Camels for company. As the princess senses their psychic connection, facilitated by the shared icon, she realises she can't smoke the cigarettes because to open the pack would be to destroy this shared reality. "A successful external reality depends upon an internal vision that is left intact," she muses.

Follow Leigh-Cheri's example and lose yourself in the packet, rather than the contents: you too might go on an interesting hallucinatory journey on the purpose of the moon. Alternatively, light yourself up with Robbins' surreal, stimulating read – because this novel packs all the punch of a nicotine high, and will give you more street cred than a personal vaporizer.