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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Review: The Girl Aquarium - Jen Campbell

Genre: Poetry, Magical Realism Published: Bloodaxe, April 2019 My rating: 4.5/5 stars

"Smash this circus to the ground. Howl fiercely at the moon"

The Girl Aquarium by Jen Campbell was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019, for multiple reasons. Not only did I love Jen’s previous works, especially her latest short-story collection The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night, I also love Jen as an author and as a member of the booktube community. This always makes me a little nervous to pick up a new release by such an author, but I’m happy to say that this did not disappoint.

The Girl Aquarium delivered exactly what I’ve come to expect from Jen Campbell: slightly unusual but stunning language, imagery as dark as it is whimsical, and fairytales and myths woven into topics that are clearly deeply personal to Jen herself (as many of them are to me). It explores sexuality, love, bodily differences, disability and disfigurement, the uncertainty of change and what the future holds.

Jen is a master of stringing together words that seemingly don’t belong together, but form a completely unique and coherent picture in my head. Her work reminds me of that of Kirsty Logan, or even the poems of Sylvia Plath (a bigger compliment I cannot give, as Ariel is my favorite poetry collection of all time), in the sense that they have a dreamlike quality to them. An uneasy fever dream that is, that feels familiar, yet leaves you with a sense of estrangement and unease. To me, it feels like being lost, but also like home. I’m sorry if that makes zero sense to anyone but me, but it’s the best way I can describe the feeling these authors give me.

The only downside to this collection for me was a purely personal one. A portion of the poems are written in Georgie dialect. For me, no matter how comfortable and familiar I get, English will always remain my second language, and having to put effort into understanding a dialect always takes the flow out of my reading a little. That being said, I do see how it adds personality to the writing and I can see how it could be a selling point for many other readers.

Am I biased for knowing a little more about the authors background surrounding the themes she addresses? Maybe...

Did I enjoy it even more because I had that understanding? Very possible indeed.

Is this thematically completely up my alley and definitely in my “soft spot”? Yes. Yes it is.

Does any of this stop me from wholeheartedly recommending you read this? Nope, absolutely not. Please give it a try if this sounds at all interesting to you.

Favorite poems:

- The Exorcism of the North Sea

- Memories of Your Sister in a Full Body Wetsuit

- The Girl Aquarium

- A Song of Herself

- Hello, Dark (almost made me cry)

- The angel of the North

- The Woman’s Private Looking-Glass

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