The Dark Horse Intimacy

Daniel Soar

  • Hey Yeah Right Get a Life by Helen Simpson
    Cape, 179 pp, £14.99, October 2000, ISBN 0 224 06082 1

Real life, in fiction at least, is supposed to involve tribulation, and because even the purest fairytales require obstacles, it had better also have grit, and dirt and (possibly) shame. But not everyone has time to read, and those who don’t are likely to be too consumed by gritty reality to want more of it. Escape is a good option, which is what genre fiction is for – you know what you’re getting and it’s not what you’re living – but constant preoccupation (with babies, for instance) makes it hard to think about anything other than what’s around all the time, even if it involves an element of nightmare. How much better, then, to have reality that is also escape.

Helen Simpson is one of those writers who make a virtue of reality by improving on it. Her stories belong to middle-aged or young women, not all of them mothers, who can just remember what it was like to be younger. She is Posy Simmonds without the social criticism, and without the pictures. But then she doesn’t need pictures:

Above her the cherry trees were fleecy and packed with a foam of white petals. Light warm rays of the sun reached her upturned face like kisses, refracted as a fizzy dazzle through the fringing of her eyelashes. She turned to the garden beside her and stared straight into a magnolia tree, the skin of its flowers’ stiff curves streaked with a sexual crimson.

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