Kinga's Reviews > Constitutional

Constitutional by Helen Simpson
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's review
Mar 03, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: that-cheating-son-of-a, short-stories, keep-your-day-job
Read from October 27 to 31, 2010

I think I am unfair when judging short stories. Probably because I don't like short stories very much. My usual review would sound something like this: "they were alright, those stories. Only problem was that they were short".
I said it before and I will say it again - writing short stories is no joke. If you want to write short stories because you are too lazy to write 'long stories', then maybe you should write washing detergents advertising slogans instead. They are short, too. In short stories you have to have everything you would have in a normal size novel, only you only have a few pages to cram it in. There is no room for the blabbering you would get away with in the middle of the book. You have to be balanced and precise.

'Consitutional' is only 128 pages long. I find it quite outrageous that you can write a 128 page long collection of stories, call it a book, and charge the full price. But that's beside the point.

The biggest problem I had with this collection was the it was so stereotypical. Philandering husbands, worn-out wives whose children are their only reason for existence. I have read it so many times in so many variants that I just cannot be impressed anymore. The worst story in the collection was the one about the selfish, cheating and chain-smoking husband and his devoted, slightly boring, selfless wife. When he finds out he has cancer, he vows to change his ways, all of a suddens discovers how good his wife has been to him, and what's important in life. Then he learns he was misdiagnosed and it is not cancer after all. So he is back to his old ways right away. I think this story shold go under wiki definition of the word 'cliche'.

Helen Simpson's favourite way of writing short stories is to send her characters on a lunch hour walk, school run, etc., and then bathe the readers in their resulting streams of consciousness. I think that's cheating. That's not even a story, that's rambling.

There is 5 star story in the collection that pulled this book out of two-stardom. "The Tree" was the only story that stood out and I felt was truly original. It was short and beautiful. And for once, Simpson stayed away from her beloved stereotypes (I mean, the main character did leave his wife and kids for a younger woman, but that's it).

I was now going to go on about how I could totally write something like that over one weekend and then receive glorious reviews from both Guardian and Independent and wouldn't life be grand, but at this point this review is almost as long as the book reviewed, so high time to wrap it up.
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10/29/2010 page 41
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by K (new)

K Your review brought a smile to my face! I'm also not a big short story fan.

message 2: by Mariel (new)

Mariel I didn't used to be a short story fan. I'm kinda still not. I have read four short story books that I loved and one that I hated. The one I hated was from different authors with no connections at all. I LOVED Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor, Mere Interlude by Thomas Hardy. I liked a lot The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. I think it was the emotional quality would be unbearable to take relentlessly in a long novel. Like life can't be lived that intensely all the time? And that they were the same author helped them feel related to each other like moments in life that happen to you, rather than short stories that don't go anywhere.

message 3: by Mariel (new)

Mariel I meant to say this year. I've read more short stories than that. Way to go for being clear, Mariel.

message 4: by Alan (new)

Alan oh shit, another short story hater. I'm hurting. However although I haven't read this or any other book by Simpson I did read 'Early One Morning' in a Granta compilation ('Are We Related') and had a similar 'Kinga' reaction. It was about the school run so it may have been in this book. Having had a bit of experience with the school run I felt why don't you just get out and walk and stop whinging, like I did (mind you I don't drive so didn't have much option), and how is this a short story? It put me off reading her collections I must admit and I had intended to..

So I can't vote for this cuz of this continuing (see Karen's review of 'Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew') denigration of a wonderful form. Do you also complain about poetry books being too short?

Kinga HA ha Alan,

Yes, that story was in this collection.

I am not a short story hater. Not at all. I just think it is an extremely difficult medium so you need to be an absolute pro to pull it off.

But when done well they could be mind blowing.

Read this review of mine:

message 6: by Alan (new)

Alan OK, that was a good review, in fact I'll add it soon to my 'to read' list. Gotta go on the desk now though..

Kinga Mariel,

I am adding them to my to read shelf,

thanks...(? not sure if I should thank you for recommendations anymore)

message 8: by Alan (new)

Alan ..back from the desk for a bit. Yes, Kinga go for Winnesburg, Ohio and A Good Man is Hard To Find (the title story is magnificent). If you want to find good-to-great stories try this compilation (although they're not all great):


both have my favourite Eudora Welty story - the intro warns that you have to be over 40 to appreciate it though, so maybe you should wait a (long) while.

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