The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night, by Jen Campbell
Description: (from Jen Campbell’s website)
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.
The content of this short fiction collection won’t be a surprise to anyone following Jen Campbell on youtube, knowing what she likes and who she is.
Magical, often very dark and unsettling, peaceful or macabre: this collection feels very much like the kind of book she often recommends. The importance given to women’s voices and narratives, the reimagination of fairy tales and exploration of the way they are perceived or can be changed and still be the same at their core. Twists verging on the horror (starting strong with the first story) or nice cosy stories (like the story that gave its name to the collection), the way people perceive otherness or differences.
They very often left me with a chill, an uncomfortable feeling at times, that thrill you like to make yourself feel by reading horror novels or telling ghost stories between friends.
On the contrary most of the shortest stories left me with no strong feelings at all, but this is mostly based on personnal preferences. Same goes for the stories that felt a bit more “disjointed” than the rest. I think the ones I liked best were the more “visual” ones.
Still, I was moved often and felt the need to continue reading to dive again in what enchanting or disturbing story the author had in store.
My favourites were:
- “Plum Pie. Zombie Green. Yellow Bee. Purple Monster” which is about fairy tales, friendship and children that are also part-plants,
- “Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel” with a title that speaks well for itself: such a cool idea I would even have read an entire novel based on this concept,
- “Bright White Hearts” which really moved me, about a girl working on an aquarium, a very intimate story.
Even the stories I liked less had this strong feel that they were saying something important, conveying a strong message; even if they weren’t my favourites or I didn’t connect with them. There was always this potential for them to be someone else’s favourite, they were all very different from the others and worked very well as a whole.
I read the ebook format but the book itself as an object is really pretty and would make a gorgeous gift. I loved the little illustrations at the start of each new story and I can’t stop gazing at pictures of the hardcopy ❤ The cover art and design is definitely fitting.
While short, that was a very impactful book and I am sure most stories will keep living in my head. It’s reasonable to say I’m totally on board for more from this author’s delightful imagination and unique point of view.
content warning: sequestration, death of animals, blood, suicidal thoughts, anorexia, teen pregnancy, implied rape, parental abuse