Guardian Interview, Sarah Crown

Guardian Interview, Sarah Crown

Halfway through our interview, Helen Simpson begins to worry about the time. We’d frittered the first few minutes on general civilities, and squandered several more fiddling with books and bags and glasses of water. Now the clock is ticking, and we’re paying for our profligacy. “We’ve only got an hour,” she frowns. “How far in are we?” She unclasps her watch and lays it on the table between us. “There. We’re all right. We can see how long we’ve got left.”

The characters in Cockfosters, Simpson’s latest short story collection, are checking their watches, too. The men and women who pick their way through its pages are deep into middle-age, and more or less relaxed about it: after the heads-down grind of the baby years, they have finally begun “to crawl up out of their burrows … and emerge blinking into the sunlight”. Identities have been re-established; relationships have regained a degree of equilibrium: there’s a sense of expansiveness, of room for reflection. But as the characters’ gazes lift, at last, to the horizon, they notice that it’s closer than it used to be. The stories are filled with markers of time’s passage: a birthday cake baked year-in year-out for a daughter who’s now fully grown; the rigid itinerary of a retirement package tour; the “lime-green digits” of a bedside clock counting down the minutes until morning. “‘It’s annoying not knowing how long we’ve got left, don’t you think?’” says Julie in the collection’s title story, as she and a schoolfriend, now in their 50s, track down her misplaced bifocals to the last stop on the Piccadilly line. “‘Thirty years,’ said Philippa. ‘Forty!’ ‘Or ten,’ said Julie. ‘Or two.’”


To read the full interview please click here.

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