I received my copy of ‘The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night’ via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Huge thanks to Two Roads Books for this book!
For more information about the book and publisher, click here.
After finishing The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell, I wandered, wide eyed and silent, into the kitchen. The kettle made its satisfying clunk as I pushed down the button and, as I leaned back on the counter, I struggled to formulate my thoughts.
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.
This short story collection was a breath of fresh air. The stories were fantastical, magical and mysterious, yet strung together with an undercurrent of danger. Much like the fairy-tales that are interwoven throughout, the stories in this book use a layer of the mystical to hide the sinister ideas beneath.
Every idea found in this book is bizarre, original, and crafted with a quirky style that captivated me from start to finish. I dare even say that some of these stories – for better or worse – could have been the foundations of entire novels.
Yet, it is because of this bizarreness that I struggle to express my thoughts about this book. If you are a regular follower of this blog, then you will know I love strange stories. Kafka on the Shore, Fifteen Dogs, Of Things Gone Astray – raining fish, talking dogs, people who turn into trees. Books that successfully dabble with bonkers ideas, and do so in unexpected ways, are books I adore.
I know this isn’t for everyone. Many of the stories in this book are non-linear. The narrative style in others is stream of consciousness, or “slightly rambling” as my friends would put it. Real world facts are interjected into the middle of stories, fairy-tales are strung between the plot. Some stories don’t even feel like they have a definitive conclusion. One of the stories is literally a script of two people talking.
I love this sort of storytelling, especially in short story collections. For me, it makes every story distinct, and makes the reading experience as a whole varied and complex. Rather than feeling like I’m reading the same story over and over, I get excited watching a new story unfold.
For others, however, I can see this wild narrative style being frustrating. Consistency in a collection is important, after all. Too much variety and you’ll start to wonder if the writer shoved all of their ideas into one basket. It can break immersion, doubly so if you’re not a huge fan of this genre.
My final conclusion? If you really love fantasy, speculative fiction, or fairy-tales, then definitely give this book a try. As someone who reads a lot of the genre, I found these stories and their ideas to be a refreshing. If you’re someone who isn’t sure, then I recommend reading a few of the stories and seeing how you feel. If the style doesn’t click, I can understand why.
If it does click, however, then I’m sure you’ll lose yourself in Jen Campbell’s original, mystical stories for many, many hours to come.
Have you read this book? Or any other work by Jen Campbell? Let me know in the comments below, or Tweet me @ERHollands. I always love new books!