Poignant, perceptive and dazzling, in this, her long awaited new collection, Helen Simpson offers acute portraits of lives in transition: of changes for the better, lives stalled and in freefall; of love, loss, and sudden revelations. Warm and funny, the stories are also threaded with a sense of anxiety and fear: of growing old, of commitment, and, most worryingly, of the growing threat to the environment.
In the title story, Alan, on a transatlantic flight, is delighted by an unusual upgrade to a first class seat, but is to find his journey disturbed by portents of doom; a family discussion over the fate of a trapped squirrel unexpectedly veers to nearly reveal a shocking truth; and a boy contemplates a parallel life after asking his mother for help with his creative writing homework.
Elsewhere Patrick, newly deaf and belligerent, is forced to re-examine his life with the help of a supernatural hearing aid; a profound, heartfelt and distracted prayer is offered for a friend's health and safety; and in 'The Festival of the Immortals', two old friends look back on their lives with joy and regret, as they wait to heckle Charlotte Brontë. Moving deftly between the domestic and the fantastical, from tragedy to comedy, this is a remarkable collection from a master of the genre; each story brilliantly realised, beautifully captured and utterly engrossing.