It has been a long two months since I last disgraced this website. Pressure of work has been intense, and spending too much time at the PC meant I had no more time to spare in front of a screen writing reviews.
I have been reading though, loads, some of it marvellous, but there is a serious review backlog which may never be properly surmounted. My resolution never to start a new book till the review of a just finished one was mapped out crumbled from the off, and I very much doubt whether many of those 15-20 books read in October and December will ever get written
But. What a wonderful find to share here
Jen Campbell’s collection of short stories is magnificent. Somewhere between myth, magic, philosophy and let’s pretend she re-conjures exactly why the short story is a perfect ‘Once Upon A Time’ perhaps a hark back to being read aloud to, or reading aloud to.
Campbell has a wondrous, unique imagination at play here. She takes the stuff of fairy stories, the stuff of reality, and mixes them together, playfully but deeply.
As an example, the title story ‘The Beginning of The World In The Middle of the Night’ is presented like a short play script. A man and a woman, talking, in bed. On one level, what is happening is something about their relationship. On another level, the conversation is about a tree which is due to be cut down by their local council. But…….it might just be a conversation about how the universe came into being. It is all delivered with a light and beautifully balanced wit. And yet…simultaneously, Campbell was making me cry, smile, aching my heart, breathless at the fragile delicacy she creates out of moments ending before we can grasp them. She is like some sculptor of something made out of fine, iridescent glass
A story about The Annunciation makes reference to Rossetti’s painting, so I read with this in my mind’s eye
Forgive the not-really-saying-anything-about-what-the-collection-of stories-is-really about, but no prospective reader should have the magic of their own discovery spoiled
Contrary to my usual habit, I post no excerpts of her writing, as each story needs to be read in entirety. Obviously, this can be done on Look Inside, (or hanging around in a bookshop, even better) to get a flavour. The first, very dark story perfectly illustrates the quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which Campbell has used to preface this collection
“It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attracted to one another”
Animals, that first story, is horribly dark, mesmeric and also, incredibly moving
A final high five must go to the publishers, Two Roads. The book itself is a thing of beauty, and each story has a lovely line drawing to illustrate it. As no artist is credited I can only assume the illustrations are by Campbell herself
My only advice to a reader is : do not rush and race through these stories. Each is perfectly satisfying and tasty, and if you eat too many at a sitting, you will miss a lot. I rationed myself to one a day, and let the stories settle and unfold
I’m certainly going to be keeping an eye out for future writing by Jen Campbell. She is a poet and author for children, and created a series of books about ‘Weird things people say in bookshops’ having worked in bookshops for ten years, but this, highly assured book is her first adult fiction foray. Perfectly done
I did get this as an ARC via NetGalley, but have to say that there were several formatting errors, which made me abandon the book quite early, as reading was a bit of a pain. Fortunately, i also then had it offered by Amazon Vine, which made for a beautiful read, as the book itself, physical object, is a delight to look upon and savour. Perfectly fits Campbell’s seductive writing, made to be lingered over, letting the flavours of her sentences unfurl. Please, don’t rush your read of this wonderful collection