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Cigarettes (American Literature Series) Paperback – October 1, 1998

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Product Details

  • Series: American Literature Series
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press (October 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564782034
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564782038
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #758,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author examines the patterning of his characters' lives as they form and reform themselves into conspiratorial pairs, in this novel of four couples and their assorted offspring. "Mathews manages to tinge familiar objects and places, such as New York, with a delectable strangeness," stated PW .
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Cigarettes has the delicate yet rigorous architecture of latticework: if we concentrate on the light streaming through its apertures we are still attentive to its carpentry; if we focus on its geometry the light is, of needs, a constant presence. It is a triumph of the imagination.

(Gilbert Sorrentino)

A brilliant Jane Austen-like social comedy on the unfathomable nature of human relationships.

(Lanie Goodman Washington Post Book World)

A brilliant and unsettling book.... Mathews weaves into each of his several story-threads more unexpected twists than you'll find in the average multi-volume Victorian novel.

(Tom Clark Los Angeles Times Book Review)

In Cigarettes, Mathews takes us more interestingly than ever into that unfinished work of art, the self, exposing powerful dependencies and subtleties in a cast of characters distinct and poised yet half-goping toward others and themselves. The plot, the tale, the laying bare, are intriguingly staged and timed in a novel as imaginative as it is disturbing.

(Joseph McElroy)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By alexander laurence on April 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
Cigarettes appears to be Harry Mathews' most conventional novel. That is only because Mathews' experimental devices and his far off, imaginary locations are not a part of this work. Surely this work is nothing like the previous work, but it is as artistic as the others. This is the literature of the salon, of Marcel Proust and, shall I dare say it, Jane Austen? And if one does not read the name on the cover, it does seem to be the work of a woman writer, say Djuna Barnes or Jane Bowles, and of course Two Serious Ladies is mentioned and read in Mathews' book. Two Serious Ladies may be used as a way into this complex, labyrinthine work.
Even though this novel may have some realistic qualities, (usually when we're dealing with Mathews, Realism is never a consideration, and language is of a main concern), it is a labyrinth of relationships of a group of people living in artistic New York in the 1950s and the 1960s. As opposed to Mathews' first novels, The Conversions and Tlooth where the imagination rules, the characters of Cigarettes do seem real, like a 19th century novel perhaps.

But I am willing to say that it must be that none of these characters are based on real people as much as they have been entirely invented "out of the whole cloth" by Mathews.
He has said good-bye to the days of adzes, stories in the arctic, Gypsies, bi-sexual baseball players, invented languages, Adrien Le Roi, Auerbach, and literary paper chases. Now Mathews is concentrating on more conventional means of writing, more realistic. It is not at all a defeatist work. One cannot write for that audience of 500 forever.

Each of the 14 chapters pair off two of the 13 main characters, and chapter by chapter we see the shape of relationships and the ever-changing extent of seriousness.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By PuroShaggy on October 28, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Harry Mathews' "Cigarettes" is a literary soap opera spanning three decades, following the lives of a dozen characters as they fall in love, commit adultery, plot against one another, indulge in their darkest desires, scheme, and ultimately, die. Elizabeth, a femme fatale straight out of a Prince song- the kind of woman who likes to love them and leave them fast- drives the action, both through her amorous seductions and her captivating portrait, painted by up-and-coming artist Walter. Walter is obsessed with women, both terrified of and enthralled with them, and it is only by capturing the essence of Elizabeth on canvas is he able to deal with this obsession, inadvertedingly creating obsessions in others. Allan falls victim to Elizabeth's allure, his wife Maud discovers this infidelity, and then discovers a second infidelity he enjoys with another character. Meanwhile, Walter's art, and the fact that his art has more to offer the world than Walter himself, inspires siblings Irene and Morris to wage war on each other, a battle that eventually snares others in its net.
The convulted action is revealed in a series of chapters, each of which focuses on two characters. When we first learn about Allan and Elizabeth's affair (in a chapter titled "Allan and Elizabeth", setting the pattern for every chapter), other characters are mentioned but their stories are unknown. With each subsequent chapter, more information is revealed about the sprawling cast, with each new piece of information forcing the reader to reconsider what is happening in the story.
Race horses, shady financial transactions, sibling rivalries, and amorous adventures all drive the action as Mathew's weaves a complex tapestry of emotion and deceit. "Cigarettes" is a straight-up literary soap opera that is both fun to read and serves as a subtle critique of the rich, the famous, and the art world.
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5 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
a classic. a comedy of manners that gradually interconnects a milieu of upper middle class americans -- the most seemingly straightforward and accessible of mathews' novels.
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