The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell

IMG_0456.JPGCategory: Short Stories
Rating: 3/5
Author: Jen Campbell

I finally got around to reading The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night, an eclectic collection of stories that sadly, didn’t impress. Much as I adore Jen’s book tube channel and I truly wanted to love her collection, I couldn’t let it jade my actual experience and thoughts. Not to sound the least pretentious, but having read a decent number of collections, I feel much more confident in determining if a collection is for me and pointing out what worked & didn’t. So here’s discussing all my thoughts.

  1. The tricky thing with absurdist fiction is that, I for one, need enough substance to counterbalance the ‘unrealism’ of a story, and mere ideas don’t suffice. Jen’s collection didn’t adequately provide me with that. This collection felt more like a collection of ideas, than stories. Ideas with potential, but largely under-developed. And it’s not like it hasn’t been done before. I think Karen Russell and Kij Johnson are two authors, I have previously read, who have managed to spin incredible stories within pure magical realism.
  2. It draws on myths, fables & fairytales interweaving stories within stories. While I certainly love the concept of stories within stories, I feel it’s much more effective in a novel form. The longer length of a novel better affords the implementation of this style seamlessly, but within  single stories it felt a little too disjointed and jarring.
  3. I wasn’t blown over by the writing style which is whimsical, simplistic & poetic using shorter sentence structures. Though I can see why it might appeal to certain kinds of readers, it didn’t leave much of an impression on me, the abruptness of the sentences, at times, breaking the flow. I enjoy longer, eloquent and descriptive sentences, and this really is just a personal preference.
  4. Which leads me to my final point, where I felt her style works brilliantly for the voice of a child. One of my favourite stories was Jacob, where a young boy writes to a news weather-woman speculating his sister’s sudden change in personality and decision to alter her name. His questions so pertinent yet dosed with innocence, was a delight to read.
Another highlight story I enjoyed was the title story told in conversational format. It felt reminiscent of Isabel Greenberg’s One Hundred Nights of Hero and loved the ending. Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel was an entertaining story. Pebbles & Bright White Hearts, had very important and interesting themes, but again weren’t fully realised.
Overall I think it had interesting ideas, but in this case, its just one of those where I wouldn’t fault the book, but rather it just wasn’t for me.


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