In-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson

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In-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Clare Reddaway
Reviewed by Clare Reddaway
Summary: Crisp, funny, observant short stories, some of which take climate change as their topic, all of which are beautifully written, relevant and contemporary.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 144 Date: May 2011
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099546122

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I am always thrilled to see that Helen Simpson has brought out a new book. I am a big fan of her crisp, funny, observant short stories. So I picked up 'In Flight Entertainment' with some anticipation. I was not disappointed.

This is a slim volume of fifteen stories, some not more than a couple of pages long, some rather more chunky. Her previous books have often had an overarching theme linking the stories – 'Hey Yeah Right Get A Life' is a collection about mothers and motherhood. Although not all of them conform to the theme, 'In Flight Entertainment' does have a number of stories that tackle the challenge of climate change. The title story itself tells of Alan, a businessman, and a flight to the States during which he sits next to a scientist. It is extremely funny, acerbic and telling. In it, Simpson uses her deft skills to create some frighteningly recognisable characters in Alan and his wife. The latter has a line of dialogue about her mother-in-law that will stay with me for a long time: I'm not having her over here being holier-than-thou about the patio heaters. This highlights one of Helen Simpson's consummate skills: she minutely observes modern mores, and by pinpointing precise details the characters that she creates spring to life.

Simpson's world is not wild and rough. This is not a book thronging with drug dealers and murder victims. This is a book peopled by mothers helping their teenagers with their homework, by couples on villa holidays, young management consultants and students on bicycling holidays in France. But there is pain here and deep emotion, carefully dissected and revealed. I particularly enjoyed the newly-deaf old man who is living with his daughter and who tunes into an unusual frequency on his hearing aid. Each story creates a whole world, beautifully described and instantly recognisable.

Simpson is a writer who has honed her skills in her chosen area of the short story so well that you know you are reading a master. For instance, 'Scan' is about a young woman on the day on which she is having a brain scan. Simpson encompases her whole life in a few pages, traversing from the making of a risotto to Catherine the Great's ice cream cooler without dropping a note. In 'Diary Of An Interesting Year' Simpson writes in journal form, again tackling climate change, portraying this time an apocalypic vision of 2040. In both these stories, and throughout the volume, Simpson writes with sweep and detail, subtext and metaphor without pretension or apparent effort.

These stories are worth reading. They are all pithy and observant, and have all got something to say about the state of our world, our lives or our relationships. They might make you laugh. Above all, they feel real and true.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestions: The Atmospheric Railway by Sheena McKay, The Empty Family by Colm Toibin and The Museum of Doctor Moses by Joyce Carol Oates.

Buy In-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson at

Buy In-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson at


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