A small preliminary rave about Helen Simpson. She’s an English short story writer with a low output (one slim volume every five years) who writes smart, funny, sometimes bitter, sometimes life-affirming short stories about normal people living normal lives. Her preoccupations are intimate, domestic, personal: motherhood, housework, relationships, friendships, work, work/family balance – but her themes are universal and political. Apparently Helen Simpson invented mummy-lit, but if that is so, then it’s only in the same way that Jane Austen invented chick-lit.
Hey Yeah Right Get a Life opens with Lentils and Lilies in which we meet Jade Beaumont, a teenager home from school on a study day, upstairs in her bedroom thinking about her summer tan and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (but mainly her summer tan). She’s gazing out her bedroom window upon the street below. In every fibre of her being she’s aware of her growing power: “every day when she left the house, there was the excitement of being noticed, the warmth of eyebeams…she was the focus of every film she saw, every novel she read…” Jade knows what end is up; she fingers her certainties like beads in her pocket. Here she is walking down the boring suburban road in front of her house:
She was never going to go dead inside or live somewhere boring like this and she would make sure she was in charge at any work she did and not let it run her. She would never be like her mother…with her tense talk of juggling and her self-importance about her precious job and her joyless ‘running the family’.