Constitutional, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


Charting tantrums, funerals, pregnancy, war and love affairs, these stories unroll with piercing wit and sympathy.

One woman finds grief for her lost lover is assuaged by involvement in some carpentry repair work.

Another grows increasingly angry as the grim reaper scythes through her circle, with farcical and tragic results.

Elsewhere, a foreign correspondent receives an unwanted ultimatum, a south London builder avenges the duping of his adored mother, and a chlorinated changing-room encounter brings about a much-needed break with the past. And in the title story, a circular walk on Hampstead Heath leads to revelations involving feats of memory, a Shakespearian heroine, crossword clues, nonagenarians, and new life.


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Constitutional, Helen Simpson’s 4th short story collection, is a slim volume (133 pages) containing 9 stories about midlife crisis.These stories are about women and men in their late 30s/early 40s facing a turning point in their lives – affairs, relationship breakdown, teenage children growing up, serious illness and pregnancy/impending single parenthood. I found them witty and sad at the same time.These are not stories based on a tight little plot and a neat twist, and readers seeking those should look elsewhere; they offer a glimpse into the people’s lives at a particular point. The story with the most obvious plotting, If I’m Spared, was my least favourite as the main character was so unlikeable.In The Year’s Midnight, Marion can’t resist intervening to try and cheer up an upset child and finds herself advising a Czech au pair girl who hates her job. I enjoyed this story but the ones I liked best were those containing bits I could really relate to. In Early One Morning, Zoe worries about her 9 year old son growing up and away from her, I can imagine feeling like this in a few years’ time. In Every Third Thought, a woman is freaked out to find that so many people around her are dying – other mums of kids at her children’s school, people of her age, people like her. In The Phlebotomist’s Love Life, a woman is distraught about the Iraq war and is distressed to find out that the man she has a relationship with doesn’t want to talk about it, probably because he has a completely different view. And in the title story, a woman finds herself pregnant in her 40s, a wanted baby but not the right circumstances.Simpson’s stories are written in simple prose. They are very witty in looking at the way people think, the mixture of logic and irrationality. I have read her earlier stories before, but reading this (twice in a few months) has made me want to go back to them.