Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"Diary of an Interesting Year" by Helen Simpson Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories-2011

"Diary of an Interesting Year" by Helen Simpson  Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories-2011

One of the premier annual short story anthologies in the world is the Pen/O Henry Prize Stores collection.   These collections first began in 1919 and is open to short stories in American and Canadian magazines.    Inclusion in the collection is a great honor and some of the greatest writers of the world have been published in these collections.   I have decided to read through all and post on some of the best of the stories in the 2011 collection and then proceed to the 2012 collection.  The 2005 and 2006 collections are also available as E books and perhaps I will read through them also.    I only began to read contemporary short stories about two years ago so most of these writers, even though many are in fact very well known, will be new to me writers.  Very few of the stories can be read online but a lot of the writers do have web pages so maybe you can sample their work a bit.

I plan just for fun to keep track of my ranking of the 2011 O. Henry Prize Stories.   Given that I have only read four so far here they are:

1.  "Sunshine" by Lynn Freed-way the best so far
2.  "Diary of an Interesting Year" by Helen Simpson
3.  "Pole, Pole" by Susan Minot
4.  "Your Fate Hurdles Down at You" by Jim Shepard (No Post)

Official Author Bio 

Helen Simpson is an English novelist and short story writer. She was born in 1959 in Bristol, in the West of England, and went to a girls' school. She worked at Vogue for five years before her success in writing short stories meant she could afford to leave and concentrate full-time on her writing. Her first collection, Four Bare Legs in a Bed and Other Stories, won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award while her book Hey Yeah Right Get A Life, a series of interlinked stories, won the Hawthornden Prize. In 1993, she was selected as one of Granta's top 20 novelists under the age of 40. In 2009, she donated the short story The Tipping Point to Oxfam's 'Ox-Tales' project, four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. Her story was published in the 'Air' collection. She is currently a writer-in-residence for the charity First Story.

"Diary of an Interesting Year" is a dystopian diary of a quite young woman, it is begins February 12, 2040, in England, and is set after a horrible environmental disaster that has pretty much destroyed the infrastructure  of the country.  People live as scavengers.  .  We never learn exactly what happened, maybe it is just a gradual unfolding of the trends in the world today.   The diary begins on the diarists 13th birthday.  G had given her a spiral notebook he had found somewhere.  We know something bad has happened when we see it is a found item without a lot of damage from rust or water.  She lives with her boyfriend, or maybe her keeper, who she calls only G.   She basically survives by finding canned foods and providing sex to G and then another man. 

This a very well done story.   As to the plot line, it is pretty much your standard post apocalyptic fare.   It was fun to read and I be happy to read more of her work.

You can read this story for free in the fiction archives of The New Yorker.    


valeriesirr said...

I've read a lot of Simpson's work. I enjoy her wit, though this one is much darker. Interesting writer.

Unknown said...

Do you have a link to where I can read this online? I haven't read anything by Simpson yet but then again my exposure to contemporary writers of short stories have been quite limited. It would be nice to read this one.

Buried In Print said...

Oh, my. Gulp. I had forgotten the title of this one. But I read it. I definitely read it. I vividly remember exactly where I was sitting when I was reading it. And I have thought back to a scene in it many times since, but had lost track of the title, only recalled it was Simpson (because she writes astonishingly well). I'd agree that much of the plot is "standard" as you've said, but there is something about the way that she depicts a woman's experience of this situation that brought me to a new level of discomfort with the subject. Thanks for the reminder (I think).

Mel u said...

Valerie Sirr. Glad to hear you like her work

Nancy. I sent you a link

Buried in Print. The style of Simpson elevates her story above the ordinary. Thanks so much for your comments