I saw the film adaptation of this book on the same day I started it. I was about 50 pages in. Although the movie condensed some of the plot for brevity’s sake, and obviously excluded some of the political nuance that Buckley captures so well, I thought that after seeing the movie, I’d more or less know what to expect. Wrong. (Possible spoilers after the fold.)
Thank You for Smoking is a book about Nick Naylor, the lead spokesperson for the fictive Academy of Tobacco Studies, a major lobbying arm of Big Tobacco. It turns out that after the initial exposition, the movie deviates almost completely from the book. Whereas the movie makes extensive use of Nick’s precociously cute son Joey, flashing his doey eyes every other scene, the book ignores him almost completely. Whereas the movie tackles the ambuiguity of the issue of smoking (the safety concerns v. the ability of people to decide for themselves what they put in their bodies), the book ends sanctimoniously, a “happily ever after” ending with a role-reversing “they all learned their lesson” corollary.
To be honest, I liked the movie’s treatment of the subject better, but I liked Buckley’s humour and nuance more. In fact, there was probably a lot of topical references I didn’t get, simply because it was written for a 1994 audience. Still, I found myself able to appreciate all the subtle jokes and stylistic variations that didn’t translate into the movie.
The movie’s lesson? Sure, cigarettes are bad, but everybody knows it, and it’s not up to us to tell them if they can or can’t smoke them. The book’s lesson? Yes, smoking is bad, and the tobacco executives are crooks, and Nick is going to end up working for the anti-smoking lobby by the end. Slight difference there.
Despite the movie’s better (I think) treatment of the topic, I liked the book, which succeeds as biting political satire.