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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