When Paula posts her weekly sightings, I’m amazed and overwhelmed as I skim through them. My eyes skip past anything that mentions Nicole Kidman, a certain play by Edward Albee, or the latest from some obscure (to me) pop singer or rock group. I pick and click casually, on the lookout for any hint of a Woolf appearance in contemporary fiction. Our blogmeister slips them in there, I know, to keep me on my toes.
Last week was no exception, and in “Fifty-six in 10 days” I hit the jackpot at number 10, a review of In-Flight Entertainment, a collection of short stories by Helen Simpson. I’ve read Simpson’s stories in The New Yorker, and I know that she’s an eclectic author, writing winsome love stories, hilarious farces and, most recently, an horrific futuristic tale. And now Woolf? My library branch hunted down this latest volume, Simpson’s fifth.
In “Festival of the Immortals,” famous authors—but only those out of copyright—give readings and discuss their work at an annual conference. On a break before Charlotte Bronte is to read from Villette, two women “in the November of their lives” chat in the tea line and discover that they’re old school friends.
Phyllis recalls, “The first time I saw you, we were in the canteen. You were reading The Waves and I thought, Ah, a kindred spirit.” Viv responds: “I still do dip into The Waves every so often. It’s as good as having a house by the sea, don’t you think? Especially as you get older. Oh, I wonder if she’s on later, Virginia; I’d love to go to one of her readings.” But Phyllis reminds her that Woolf isn’t out of copyright for another five years because of changes in copyright law.
They tell each other about their lives in the intervening years, and Viv remarks that, “It’s not in the books we’re read, is it, how things have been for us. There’s only Mrs. Ramsey, really, and she’s hardly typical.”
Thanks, Paula, for pointing me to this book. I recommend the collection–other standouts here were “Channel 17” and the very moving “Charm for a Friend with a Lump”– and I plan to read more of Helen Simpson.