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In-Flight Entertainment: Stories (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – November 13, 2012

3 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Praise for Helen Simpson's In-Flight Entertainment:

“Funny, shrewd, alternately wicked and warm. . . . Simpson’s short-story collections are such a pleasure to glide through.”
Entertainment Weekly
“All lovers of the short story will recognize this collection as brilliant examples of the genre. . . . A book to savor and think about for a long time.”
The Washington Times
“Fearless, funny writing shadowed with dread. . . . The hat trick Simpson scores here is to render characters who could have been straw men fully three-dimensional, make organic a debate that might have seemed ginned up, and—most astonishingly—shield the reader, with wryness and sharp observation, from feeling oppressed.”
The Boston Globe
“Simpson has proven her mastery of a difficult form.”

“Simpson revels in the undomesticated part of domestic life. . . . There's not a moment of preciousness or sentimentality in these stories. It's enough to give everyday life its good name back.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer
“[Simpson’s] dark humor will keep you reading. . . . A wicked take on domesticity. . . . There’s delight . . . in her mood-enhancing drop-ins: lines of poetry, descriptions of paintings, evocations of music—treats you might want more of on your own.”
The Dallas Morning News
“For anyone who savors the acerbic literary likes of Evelyn Waugh or the Amises, father and son, Helen Simpson is just the ticket. . . . The stories assembled here are filled with crisp observations about mortality, infidelity and the looming apocalypse of climate change. Melancholy subjects, to be sure, and Simpson accords them their emotional weight; but one suspects that even as the ice caps melt, Simpson's hardy strain of Brit wit might well be wheezing out a rueful quip or two.”
“Simpson’s writing is spare and intentional; you never doubt you’re in the hands of a master.”
“On first glance the prose appears lilting, unfussy, harmlessly sly. Quickly, though, a steady theme clarifies: that of the planet's self-annihilation.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Simpson suggests that society is too busy with minutiae to deal with critical issues. . . . In-Flight Entertainment provides a bumpy, often jarring flight in which the captain is warning us to prepare for a crash.”
Houston Chronicle 
“Short and sharp, the latest stories from the award-winning British author are as pointed as ever.”
Kirkus Reviews 
“These 13 new stories showcase the work of one of the finest contemporary writers in the form . . . If there’s a flaw to be found in Simpson’s latest collection of stories, it’s that they’re so clever they can distract readers from the characters as they admire the author’s technique. Simpson’s prose is crisp, her insights unsparing, her passions transparent.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Simpson’s wit, and her insight into birth, mortality, marriage and families, certainly mark her out as a writer whose ambition is both constrained and enhanced by choosing this most modest of fictional forms. There are other female writers today who work this territory in novels . . . but Simpson's art is more refined for being so seemingly effortless, unforced and entertaining.”
New Statesman
“A new collection from one of our finest exponents of the form. . . . She merits comparison with Flannery O’Connor and Alice Munro. Why read it? Because she’s the real deal.”
“The appearance of another book of short stories by Helen Simpson always causes the heart to lift and this year’s In-Flight Entertainment gave me particular pleasure. Its elegant slenderness contains more subtle intelligence and emotional truth than many a bloated novel.”
—Anne Chisholm, Sunday Telegraph
In-Flight Entertainment is quite delectable, confirming Simpson as the queen of the comic short story.”  
—David Robson, Sunday Telegraph
“It is a blissful relief to turn to the coolness and clarity of Helen Simpson. . . . Simpson is, to my mind, the best short story writer now working in English.”
—Ed Crooks, Financial Times
“Simpson’s gifts are a lyrical vocabulary, an authoritative form, a special funny-sad quality and a subtlety of understanding.  Add in political argument, and she is a key voice for our time.”
—Margaret Reynolds, The Times
“Wickedly funny and painfully true. . . . Dangerously close to perfection.”
—Kate Saunders, The Times
“Superbly crafted morality tales, such being Simpson's speciality. . . . [Simpson’s] stories, like the best stories, give the impression of being the last word on the subject, even if, or especially if, that word is enigmatic and open-ended. She ends her stories beautifully, and never quite the same way twice.”
The Guardian  
“Very black comedy. . . . Simpson is a wry, humane and brilliant observer of our peculiar condition.”
The Independent  

About the Author

Helen Simpson is the author of four previous collections of short stories, Getting a Life, Four Bare Legs in a Bed (winner of the Somerset Maugham Award), Dear George, and In the Driver's Seat, as well as one novel, Flesh and Grass, and A Bunch of Fives: Selected Stories. She is the recipient of the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in London. 


Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (November 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307742547
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307742544
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,695,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
I just read this disturbing, incandescent collection of short stories to fill the quiet moments of a vacation. Having finished it, the first thing I did was to calculate the carbon footprint of my air travel, and to my dismay, found my guilt rather overpowered the joys of fresh powder in the Wasatch. If you think that Global warming is real, and want to be part of a solution, if one exists, then you will read these stories and shiver. if you are looking for escapist literature, are self absorbed enough to not care what happens to coming generations (not hypothetical! The children are born! They need food water and hope!) then you will feel these stories are too harsh and too strident. The beauty of a short story is that it has only an ambition of condensing the power of words into little jabs of wonderment at the truth and energy they convey. This is a book of short free falls and frightening jolts, meant to stir one from a nap, to check one's belt, and to look around, and down.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Helen Simpson's "Four Bare Legs in a Bed" was the book I begged friends visiting England to bring back for me. At the time, it was unavailable in the United States, but I'd just finished "Getting a Life" and had to have more.

Whether her protagonists are young lovers, eager to explore and abuse the workings of their hearts, newly marrieds, a young lawyer required to attend a whisky-soaked corporate dinner dedicated to quoting copious stanzas of Scottish poet Robert Burns, or parents helping kids navigate the treachery of divorce and homework, Simpson puts us squarely in their heads and reveals the subtle pitches of their emotions.

In her latest collection of 13 stories, the characters' unease is frequently underscored by global warming, whether as political viewpoint or the cause of environmental devastation. The subject makes an appearance in the title story, "Ahead of the Pack" and "Geography Boy," but especially in the chilling, post-apocalyptic "Diary of an Interesting Year," which first appeared in The New Yorker.

In "In-flight Entertainment," Simpson enacts a marvelous scene where two businessmen pick over the bones of the global warming debate, making idle conversation as they shuttle over the Atlantic, while a fellow first-class passenger succumbs to heart failure:

'There was a flurry across the aisle and Alan craned his neck to make out the doctor arming himself with some sort of wire machine. Whump, it went; whump, whump. Pause. Alan saw the old man's hands fly up in the air and come down again.
"What's that?" he asked the air stewardess with a jerk of his head. Her eyes were suspiciously watery despite her professional smile. She shook her head and moved away.
"That'll be the defibrillator," said Jeremy.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
On the micro level, this thirteen short story collection focuses on all types of relationships as people realize death is the outcome; on the macro level the contributions provide a cautionary theme of humanity's suicidal destruction of the planet. All the entries are excellent as Helen Simpson smoothly blends her big and little pictures into a cohesive anthology. The opening title story In-Flight Entertainment has an indifferent flyer upgraded to first class only to find his row mate passionately blaming mankind for an inconvenient truth caused by the dangerous carbon footprint ironically including air travel. The academic ridicules his lover over her environmental fears as "ecospeak", but that scorn proves to be The Tipping Point" ending their relationship. The romantic "Geography Boy" cannot win his beloved's heart fully as she fears the death of the planet nears, but each tries as they have each other when the end comes. The business guru once again proves "Ahead of the Pack" of lemmings with a plan to make money on the global warming fears. "Diary of an Interesting Year" sums up the compilation as by the year 2040 avarice fuels mankind's destruction. With the tone differing from humorous to stark essayist, this is a great collection summed up by Pogo "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Harriet Klausner
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Format: Hardcover
In-Flight Entertainment: Stories is a bland book of stories that contains characters that are uninteresting and far from the reader's concern. The contents are made up of stories that read more like reports of small episodes or incidents in a person's daily life and have no drama that might spark the heart to beat faster. In one story a man's lover is more interested in the environment than she is in him. In another, a man loses his hearing and begins to experience internal sounds and perhaps even auditory hallucinations. These sounds tell him about his failure as a father. In yet another story, a man catches a squirrel and tries to decide whether to kill it or not while his wife reflects on the affair she's having, hoping her husband does not know about it.

I am a lover of short stories, cherishing Alice Munro and many contemporary short story writers. Ms. Simpson's stories just don't hold up to these and I'm sorry to say that I was very disappointed in this collection.
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