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


As I have said many times, I do not like short stories, mainly because the quality varies and I usually end up liking two. In fact I can actually list the short story collections I have liked in the past:

Anything by Roald Dahl

George Saunders – Pastoralia

Lauren Holmes – Barbara the Slut

Haruki Murakami’s anthology of birthday stories

Ken Liu – The Paper Menagerie

And now I can add Jen Campbell’s The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night to that list. In fact I can’t remember the time I was so absorbed with a collection of short stories. Actually I can, when I read Pastoralia back in 2000.

Campbell’s world is bizarre, weird and quirky but never descends into gross out. If you watch her YouTube channel you know that she adores fairy tales and in a good number of the stories, fairy tales did form the basis. One example is the opener Animals, where a woman buys a swan’s heart and goes off on a tangent about swans in fairy tales.

Reading these stories was an educational experience. Margaret and Mary and the End of the World opened my eyes to Rossetti’s The Annunciation. The story Jacob (which made me laugh) explores philosophical concepts. The title story fuses creation myths with metaphysics.There’s a lot to gain here and more importantly its fun to read.

Although it is difficult to single out a fave, but I would say that Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel is a brilliant exploration on how to deceive people AND ask eschatological questions at the same time.  Really though all these stories are of a high standard, if anyone else has such a fertile imagination and makes it so effortless in the short story format please do tell me.