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on 13 July 2010
Helen Simpson's new book contains some of her usual searing portraits of middle class life with its marriages and children but differently from her other books this one chooses to focus a lot on global warming. The writing is top notch as always and her gift for storytelling is apparent in every story here. It's one of the best short story collections I've read in the last couple of years, which, despite its shortness, stays with you longer than it takes to read.

The title story concerns a socratic dialogue between two men in the first class section of plane. One is a global warming denier, the other a believer and moreoever a scientist who contributed to the studies into global warming. What follows are some dire warnings about whats to come: mass death, the loss of every facet of our priveleged existence, society breaking down into martial law, every man for themselves until the planet is unable to sustain human life on the surface anymore. It stays with you more for its surety in its doomsday portents and the vivid way Simpson describes it, and also because you hope it never comes to pass.

Similar stories follow in the book: "Ahead of the Pack" satirises corporate culture meshing with global warming warnings; "The Tipping Point" features a man unable to sustain his relationship with a woman who is obsessed with bringing peoples' attentions to the urgency of global warming; "Geography Boy" is similar, contrasting medieval visions of the end of the world as depicted in Revelation. "Diary of an Interesting Year" is maybe the best story here. It takes place in 2040 and is told in diary snippets by a woman living in Simpson's dire future. She fights for survival and all the action takes place in between the entries. It's the strongest piece of storytelling I've read of hers and is a fantastic short story.

The non-global warming stories are good too. "Festival of the Immortals" is more light hearted featuring a book festival with world famous authors like the Bronte sisters and James Joyce, all of whom are alive and well in today's society. "Homework" is a mother helping her son with his creative writing homework and she tells him of an alternate life she envisioned for herself under the guise of homework help.

I really liked this book despite it's obsession with doom laden prophecies about our soon-to-be-extinct race. Impressive writing coupled with an acute storytelling sense bring these well conceived stories to life and prove to be Simpson's best book yet. A great read (though perhaps not for those looking for a cheerful pick-me-up).
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on 10 June 2011
This a return to form for Helen Simpson - not that any of her books of short stories are anything short of wonderful - but this spoke to me the way "Hey Yeh Right, Get a Life" did, when I had small children. Pefect short story writing, such an fantastic art form in her hands. Not a word overused, each sentence so thought provoking. Incredible to feel so immersed in the characters lives within a few phrases. I'll remember these little stories for a long time. PS Night Thoughts, published in Granta 115 makes it worth the purchase price alone.
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on 11 September 2015
I liked these stories – all of them, though sometimes the contents make one feel guilty that no one seems bothered about global warming, the scandal of land-fill and our casual profligacy. Fracking, for instance, which releases toxins and causes earthquakes. This book of stories is a warning of which we should take heed. All very well to say, it doesn’t concern me, when the world breaks down I’ll be long in my grave.

The stories reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Galapagos in that most of them are set in the future, the near-enough to be uncomfortable future at that. I’m like most of my friends and family, we consume things we don’t need – and recent events in Syria warn that we may be just on the edge of a complacency that may kill us all. The reality is that we are not preserving our planet, we are consuming all it provides and asking for more. Some of us think this is nonsense. More and more of us are coming to see that life moves on and if we don’t move with it, we will be left behind.

The subject in question is global warming and what we might be able to do about it. Little pin-pricks of sentences stand out. “I know, I know, there are still people who say it isn’t really happening but they are like my weight-loss clients who say ‘It’s glandular’ or ‘I’ve got big bones. What they’re really saying is ‘I’m not ready to change.’

These stories are wise beyond their age. They are also very human, very acute. We must take note or we may not have a future to waste. “Oh reason not the need,” as Shakespeare said.
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on 2 October 2015
If Helen Simpson is the best short story writer of our time then short stories are in trouble, on the evidence of this collection. There is a tendency to focus on short and omit the story - scenes are set up, but don't really play out. This, plus an overtly preachy approach to global warming deniers, which colours a good number of the stories, left me wondering if I was going to finish the book. I'm glad I did, because the one story that holds largely together, Diary of an Interesting Year, is second to last. Even that is a little eco-preachy, and it's interesting that Helen writes characters either side of the debate which are no more likeable than each other.

A couple of fantasy moments could have been explored in more depth, mainly "The Festival of the Immortals", but even with the shade of Shakespeare somehow lurking in the wings of a literary festival, the story itself is humdrum and lacks conflict, resolution, and, frankly, a point.

Fortunately, I DON'T think this represents the entirety of the short story genre, I think that genre is much wider than this, and while a certain tendency towards vignettes seems to have found favour with the literary critics, it does very little to appeal to this reader.
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on 5 September 2014
A varied and enjoyable shirt story collection capturing well many foibles of human behaviour. In this volume the focus is on well to do and often middle aged people (though not exclusively - there are a couple about young people) with affluent lifestyles (lots of air miles if you are an academic), second homes, and perhaps second partners tucked away at work.

Several stories touch on climate change - as the unreflective meet true believers or as Simpson imagines a dystopian future. My personal feeling was that some of these stories were more successful, imaginativly, than others. Clearly there are many possible views on what the future could be like. If you read and believe Danny Dorling's book 10 Billion, you won't believe that quite the horrors await that some of these stories assume... But it is good to see a short story writer taking this on.
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on 28 December 2014
Some good stories in here but nothing particularly spectacular. None of them stayed with me or made a significant impact. I recognise that the writing and ideas are good but it just didn't do it for me really.
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on 8 December 2015
Full disclosure: I do not read many short stories. But this is a nice collection - very contemporary, I read them after coming across Helen Simpson for the first time in a newspaper review of Cockfosters (which I have not yet read). Some of the stories here are quite uncomplicated, several provoke thought, one is almost poetic (Charm for a Friend with a Lump). I could imagine reading the book on holiday (but doubt it will be available at the airport - buy it before!). The 'official' reviews in the ‘Look Inside!’ link are reliable and not overhyped. I also enjoyed Constitutional.
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on 20 May 2011
This collection is the best I've read in years, Simpson is insightful, hilarious and thought-provoking. A MUST-BUY, there is something for everyone in these stories.
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on 6 September 2013
I have read a couple of Helen Simpson short story collections previously, and enjoyed and admired their precision, gentle humour and sharp observation. 'In-Flight Entertainment' has these qualities too, but they are all a bit supplanted by a more urgent proselytising on the subject of climate change, global degradation and the end of humanity. This is the overt theme of several of the stories. Their effect was to make me nervous, while at the same time admiring Simpson's deftness and skill in the short story form.
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on 29 May 2012
In-flight entertainment is a collection of short stories by Helen Simpson, regularly held up as one of the best British writer of short stories at present, and it is not hard to see why. This slim volume contains fifteen stories, loosely based around the theme of climate change. So, the title story sees an irritated passenger on a plane insisting to a scientist that flying does not have an impact upon the environment, Ahead of the Pack sees a pitch for funding for carbon footprint reduction, and Diary of an Interesting Year witnesses the aftermath of the climate change tipping point in 2040. Whilst inherently political, she pulls these stories off in a thought-provoking way and without being at all hectoring.

But there are also engaging stories about more mundane matters - whether it is considering how best to dispose of a trapped squirrel, the most efficient way to dump a girlfriend or coping with a new hearing aid. There is a rich vein of wry humour running through these stories which are beautifully crafted. She managed to provide just enough detail to properly sketch out her characters, and there is not a wasted word amongst these stories

This the first book by Simpson that I have read, and I am definitely looking forward to reading the rest of her output.
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