What’s it all about?:
‘These days, you can find anything you need at the click of a button.
That’s why I bought her heart online.’
Spirits in jam jars, mini-apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows.
A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island.
A boy is worried his sister has two souls.
A couple are rewriting the history of the world.
And mermaids are on display at the local aquarium.
The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is a collection of twelve haunting stories; modern fairy tales brimming with magic, outsiders and lost souls.
What did I think?:
I’ve followed Jen Campbell’s You Tube channel for quite some time now as we appear to share quite similar taste in books, especially anything slightly quirky and fairy tale-esque. However, I shamefully haven’t ever got round to any of her books before so when I saw all the promotion about The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night and clocked THAT cover, I knew I had to finally check out her style. Now, this is a short story collection and I would normally put any short story collections in my Short Stories Challenge and enjoy a story at a time, at quite a leisurely pace. However, with this collection I just couldn’t wait and gobbled them all up in a much shorter space of time. There is no way that I can be as eloquent as Jen with words but believe me when I say that this collection is something really special. It seems to display every single aspect that makes up Jen as a person combined with the fact that she touches on subjects quite close to her heart, like folklore and legends, LGBT issues and individuals that have something about themselves, whether it be physical in appearance or their personality that is just a little bit different and aside from the norm.
It’s quite rare for me to read a short stories collection where I could rate every single one of the stories five stars and unfortunately I couldn’t quite do this with The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night. There was one particular story, “In The Dark” that I couldn’t quite connect with but I know other reviewers who have loved it so that’s probably just personal taste. I’d just like to talk about a couple of the stories that had a huge effect on me and that began with the very first story in the collection, “Animals” which was all kinds of wonderful and portrayed a world where hearts can be bought and sold online. For me, it was one of the darkest, most twisty tales in the bunch – it made me shiver and it was completely brutal, but the way Jen used poetic language made me swoon. In a lot of these stories, it’s evident how much research she’s put into what she’s writing as she draws on old legends from other countries. For example, we learn about the Celtic goddess of sleep who transforms into a swan every year and the giant in Norway who kept his heart outside of his body so he could live forever. I’d love to talk more about this particular story but I simply cannot, you simply have to discover its beauty and magic for yourself. It knocked me sideways.
Another story where I “didn’t see it coming,” was the gorgeous title story, “The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night.” This tells the story of a man and a woman who are lying in bed one night talking together about potential beginnings in their world. What I really enjoyed about this story (apart from the bitter-sweet and heart-breaking ending of course!) was the style that Jen chooses to use, it’s told in the form of a script, almost like a play and it was quite refreshing to read a story in this manner. It seemed to get across the message behind the tale and the relationship between the couple even more perfectly than if the author had used prose. Finally, I’d like to talk about the brilliance of “Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel.” This is set on a small island and follows a girl and her Aunt who run a hotel where guests can stay and feel close to their deceased loved ones by spending the night within a coffin and making contact. I loved everything about this, the imaginative idea and how the narrative slowly plays out until the reader gets a real idea of what’s really going on with these mysterious characters and their strange ideas.
I always had a sneaking suspicion I was going to enjoy Jen Campbell’s writing, it was obvious to me that as a poet, she was always going to construct some stunning sentences but I was really surprised by exactly how much I adored it. Her lyrical style and love of the other-worldly, more peculiar parts of our world is everything I could ever want in an author and I felt like I was reading every single word she wrote with unbridled delight. The fantastical/magical elements are spot on, as I was anticipating but I loved that Jen also isn’t scared to go to the dark places in a few of these stories. As a writer of short stories, I truly believe that this author is up there with those of the highest calibre writing in both the past and present – I’m thinking Angela Carter, Angela Slatter for starters? I can only rub my hands in glee for anything she’s going to write next.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night was the twenty-second book on my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!