Book Review: The beginning of the world in the middle of the night by Jen Campbell

Every time I read a good short story collection, I wonder why I don’t read them more often. It can be difficult to find collections where the stories stand out on their own and don’t meld together in my mind, and I’ve found that in general, I am drawn more towards fairy tales or magical realism when it comes to the collections I pick up. This collection, by Jen Campbell, ticks all the boxes for the kind of short stories I enjoy.

It’s a mix of dark and whimsical, and every story stands out. If I had to pick favourites I would say that ‘Jacob’, ‘The beginning of the world in the middle of the night’ and ‘Little deaths’ would be my top three. It’s difficult to describe the collection in terms of one overarching theme or style, as of my top three, one if written as a letter, one as a play, and one in first person! They all have little twists and magical elements, for example, in ‘Little deaths’ people collect spirits in jam jars.

The stories in this collection really capture the imagination and sit with you for a while after you finish them. Unusually for me, I was content to read one story at a time, rather than rushing through the entire collection cover to cover. It almost feels like you need a little break in between each one, just to savour them properly. The stories are shorter than a lot of what I’ve read previously, but they feel complete. You don’t have the sense of thinking that anything has been left out or cut off abruptly, and none of the stories get to the point of rambling or start to lose focus. I’ve always admired writers who are able to strike this balance, as I think it takes a lot of skill to know where to stop and where to give more detail.

I think what makes the collection particularly captivating is the writing style. Jen writes in a way that makes the stories feel personal, often as though the narrator is just having a chat with you. This casual, effortless way of writing has the effect of feeling as though the story has gotten comfortably under your skin before you’ve really had a chance to think about it.

I really enjoyed this collection, and I think I will find myself coming back to some of these stories again and again.


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