A few months ago I reported on Ian McEwan, currently writing a book inspired by his Cape Farewell
journey to the Arctic, who was saying how hard it was to was to tackle such a â€œvirtuousâ€ topic in a novel.
The trajectory of a short story is very different from a novel, but Helen Simpson manages it deftly in her story “In-flight Entertainment” which appeared in Granta 100. In it, two men who meet in the first class cabin of a transatlantic flight discuss global warming, while, next to them, another passenger dies of a heart attack.
“Four hoursâ€™ delay,” volunteered Alan, “thanks to those jokers at Heathrow. Alan Barr, by the way.”
“And Iâ€™m Jeremy Lees. Yes, those anti-flying protesters. A waste of time.”
“I suppose so,” said Jeremy. “What I meant, though, was it was a waste of their time. Theyâ€™re not going to change anything.”
Itâ€™s nonsense, isnâ€™t it, this global warming stuff. Trying to turn the
wheel back. Half the scientists donâ€™t agree with it anyway.”
I think youâ€™ll find they do. Ah, red please,â€™ said Jeremy as the air
stewardess offered him wine. â€˜What have you got? Merlot or Zinfandel?
Iâ€™ll try the Zinfandel. Thank you. No, they do agree now, theyâ€™ve
reached a consensus. I ought to know, I was one of them. No, itâ€™s not
nonsense, Iâ€™m afraid. The world really is warming up.”
It was published well before the Heathrow decision, but manages to include the line: “Heathrow will get its third runway any time now.”
Nominations for other pieces of contemporary lit which tackle this sort of stuff?
Picture: Still from The Coming Race by Ben Rivers 2006. “An indistinct, slow-moving sea of humanity clambers valiantly up a rocky mountain.” Showing as part of Figuring Landscapes at the Tate Modern, February 6 – 8. Details here.
Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Blog