The Fiction Fox
The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night - Jen Campbell
Updated: Sep 9, 2018
Genre: Short Stories, Magical Realism Published: Two Roads, november 2017 Rating: 5/5 stars
Based on the tiny synopsis, and the fact that it has Jen Campbells name on it, I was sold:
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.
This sounds like it was made for me!
Yet for a book I was so excited for, I put off reading it for a very long time. This seems to be a trend for me; the higher the expectation, the greater my fear of disappointment. I’d rather live in the bliss of anticipation of something incredible, than read something mediocre. I am so happy to say that once I picked it up, this collection did not only meet, but surpass my expectations.
The main reason for my anticipation, and thus fear of disappointment, was the author. I have followed Jen as a reviewer and YouTuber for quite some time and I’m a big fan of her. She has great taste in books, incredible insight in writing and has given some of the best bookish recommendations I’ve ever come across. Moreover, she seems like such a nice and wise person that I would just love to meet and talk to. She discusses important topics on her channel, that are very close to home for her. Many of those mean a lot to me as well, and I cannot express how much I admire her for her strength and eloquence in addressing them.
If this same passion and eloquence would reflect in her shortstories, I was bound to love it. Yet if it wouldn’t, I’d be at risk of being disappointed by someone I greatly respect and admire. Luckily, I loved this shortstory collection even more than I could have hoped. Each story is highly atmospheric, magical and fairly dark and they deal with all the same topics I love Jen Campbell for, and interweaves these with elements of folklore and fairytales. For anyone familiar with the origins of these folklore, it’s evident how well thought-out all of them are, and how each of them has a meaning that is more than skindeep. In my opinion Jen has mastered the art of shortstory telling; every word is there for a reason, every reference is relevant... Each of these tiny stories contains a world of depth below the surface, if you allow yourself to dive in deep.
Without going into each of the stories separately, my favorite was the final one“Bright White Hearts”. Jen really put a lot of herself in that story, and it shows in the best way possible. Other favorites were "Little Deaths" (which I see many reviewers name as their least favorite: why?) and the titular story "the Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night".
The collection as a whole is coherent as well due to the consistent themes and atmosphere. I think the entirety of it was smart, magical and most of all: brave. Jen, thank you for this little gem and thank you for sharing you voice. I am truly glad to have read this book.
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