The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night – Review


Title: The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night

Author: Jen Campbell

Genre: General, Short story collection

Publisher: John Murray Press, Two Roads – November 2017

Summary: from amazon

‘These days, you can find anything you need at the click of a button.
That’s why I bought her heart online.’

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.

‘I’m fascinated by storytelling, and particularly fairy tales. How humans have always tried to explain things that they can’t possibly understand with, sometimes outrageous, stories’ Jen Campbell


I don’t read many short story collections as I generally find novels more rewarding. However, occasionally I do see one that looks worth taking a chance on. The first thing I liked about The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night was honestly the cover. It was colourful and gorgeous, and a little shocking. I also loved the title, I thought it sounded lyrical and intriguing. Neither the cover nor the title are things to really judge a book on but they are honestly what first attracted me to the collection. After reading the stories I am pretty tempted to buy myself a copy of this gorgeous book.
I was immediately drawn in by the first story ‘Animals’. It was shocking at times but it retained a certain beauty to it throughout. I loved how the author played around and twisted established fairytales. Fairytales themselves almost always have an intrinsic and surprising darkness to them which provides scope for really investigating what they mean and telling them in new and original ways. These short stories were not always immediately recognisable as fairytale retellings but they all had elements and twists to them that led straight back to these tales. My other favourite of the collection was ‘Margaret and Mary and the End of the World’. I liked the authors take on several of the issues that were brought up in the tale ranging from religion to eating disorders. It was dark and intense but also beautiful and heartbreaking. I actually liked most of the stories, there were no real duds in my opinion. The titular story was a great blend of sadness and unexpected comic moments. The author’s writing has a great mystical feeling to it which enhances every single one of the stories and there is some really effective imagery created. This collection’s main focus seems to be the fragility and meaning of human life, our mortality and the worlds obsession with defying death. It also proves how fairytales that have been around for hundreds of years are also filled with these themes. I am certainly no expert on short stories and I’m sure I have not grasped all of the subtext and meaning in these tales but I very much enjoyed reading this fantastical and strange book.


I received this book from net galley in exchange for an honest review.


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