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Getting a Lifeby Helen Simpson
Synopses & Reviews
From the writer whose work has been described as sparingly tragic and unsparingly funny (Ruth Rendell) and shimmering with grace and savagery and wit (The Times, London), a new collection: nine stories about the blisses and irritations of domestic life.
The setting is contemporary London and its suburbs. A seventeen-year-old girl, a student of Coleridge and Keats, walks toward her future resolved not to be anything like her successful career-woman mother. At a small cafe in South Kensington, two women, teachers, become tipsy and exchange confidences about their family difficulties and marital turmoils, revealing more than they intend. A celebratory dinner for a timber merchant and his wife in South London turns into something else entirely. In the midst of a sensuous shopping spree, a woman shares with her friend the secret of a state of mind known as wurstigkeit ('sausageness'). At a Robert Burns gala in a Mayfair hotel, poetry and money collide head-on.
These are stories that charm and move us as they catch the special timbre part laughter, part wail of youngish, more or less sophisticated lives in the city at our particular moment in time.
"In these subtly linked stories, and with prose that in its range of cultural and sensual reference is breathtaking and beautiful, Helen Simpson registers what is both laughable and lamentable in the lives of contemporary women. In her take on fin de siecle motherhood and work, she has elegantly updated and complicated the mad housewife fiction of previous decades and offered a bracing post-script to Bridget Jones. These stories are wonderfully composed in their irony and wrath. They are admirable and haunting." Lorrie Moore
"Ms. Simpson writes with such emotional precision, such black humor and dyspeptic zest, that she manages to spin this unpromising subject matter into some wonderfully funny and disturbing stories that limn the middle- and upper-middle-class world of London (and its suburbs) with Waugh-like acerbity and wit. Ms. Simpson [has a] seemingly effortless ability to conjure up her characters' states of mind, [and] to describe emotions and moods with pointillist if sometimes hyperbolic detail." Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"?[B]rilliantly biting. [Her] terrain will remind readers of Fay Weldon's cursed and pleasant land, but Simpson's boil is more furious, her satire more surreal and Swiftian, her vision more end-of-tether violent. Simpson plants a surveillance camera inside darkest family life and describes the scenes with mordant comedy and lush, exact language...mesmerizing because of Simpson's precise observations of mood shifts and because of her extravagant unfurling of language." Laurie Stone, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Some of the most sensitive, insightful and finely crafted stories I have ever read." Ruth Rendell, The Mail on Sunday
"It is the book's truthfulness that makes it both intensely tragic and intensely comic." A. S. Byatt
"This collection...finally ought to establish [Helen Simpson's] reputation on these shores. Her quirky humor and linguistic dexterity may remind you of Lorrie Moore with a BBC accent." Jay McInerney, The New York Times Book Review
In Simpson's new collection of stories, London and its suburbs are the setting and family life the subject, as seen from nine different perspectives.
About the Author
HELEN SIMPSON grew up in a suburb of London. She is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories, Four Bare Legs in a Bed (winner of the Somerset Maugham Award) and Dear George, as well as one novel, Flesh and Grass. In 1993 she was included in Granta's Best of Young British Novelists, and in 1991 she was the first recipient of the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. She lives in London with her husband and two children.
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