Writer: Jen Campbell
Publishing House: Two Roads
Date of Publication: November 2nd 2017
Rating: 5 stars
“There isn’t anything quite like holding love in your bare hands.”
I don’t know….I don’t know how to describe the feelings I’ve experienced while reading each page of this book. I am not easily carried away by anything but when such a creation comes your way you cannot help but ending up staring in awe. And for now, I will let the stories speak for themselves….
“Animals” : A story that left me speechless with each passing paragraph. A dark, cruel, violently haunting world where hearts can be bought and stolen. Where a man experiments on his wife, performing transplantation with animal hearts. This is one of the weirdest texts I’ve ever read and it almost makes me uncomfortable to say how much I was mesmerized by it.
“Jacob” :A sensitive young boy sends a letter to a journalist narrating his troubled life. Very sad, very powerful.
“Plum Pie.Zombie Green.Yellow Bee.Purple Monster.” :Jasmine, Lily, Ivy, Roses….and Jack (of the Giant Bean tale) somewhere in the middle. An absurd, crazy, beautiful story about colours, loss, power, remembrance.
“In the Dark”:A strange, inexplicable encounter between a woman and a soldier in a kitchen, in the middle of the night.
“Margaret and Mary and the End of the World” :A remarkably beautiful and sad story centered around Rossetti’s masterpiece Ecce Ancilla Domini. A young woman, named Margaret, tries to find some comfort through Art and Religion, through fairy tales and attempts to imagine how the Virgin Mary must have felt in the moment of the Annunciation. She needs to escape harassment and cruelty caused by her own heartless mother. This story is constructed like a patchwork quilt except it doesn’t provide warmth. It makes you shiver. Possibly the best story in this perfect collection.
“Little Deaths” :This a world where ghosts are hunted, caught, put into jars to be bought. A world where you can steal a ghost, collect a ghost, name it, use it as a remedy for all maladies. This is a world where school homework such as this exists :“English:How would you like to die? Please number your preferences 1–10, with 1 being the most preferable. You have a 1000 word limit. You will be marked on your ability to persuade.
Maths:How much should your family and friends cry at your funeral? You have a limit of 1000 tears. Please share these out among those you expect to attend. Show your working.” I know I’d definitely enjoy answering these questions…
“Somewhere, underground, there should be a massive row of filing cabinets, winding and branching out across the country. And each of them should contain everyone’s – and everything’s – beginnings.
“The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night” : The title story in the collection. A tree becomes the symbol of a marriage and the search for a common beginning through misconduct and disorder. In the middle of the night, a woman tries to come to terms with everything that has been pressing her soul for quite a long time but the answers are practically unattainable. A story that reads like a wonderful one-act play.
“Pebbles” :Can we even dare to look on war in a romantic light? The Northern Ireland conflict, the 2011 disaster in Fukushima, the troubles of youth become a metaphor for a deep, innocent love.
“Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel” :A family tosses coins with Death and the desire of the ones who are left behind. A story that has references to the Isla de las Muñecas, the haunting island whose only residents are creepy dolls hanging from the trees. We also learn about Keres, the spirits of revenge in Greek Mythology, the Moroaica from Romania, the Asian Krasue and, of course, the greatest myth of despair in the form of Pandora’s Box.
“And did you know that, in China, shades of blue are called shallow or deep, not light or dark?”
“Sea Devils” :What do we get when we mix witches, crabs and Hollywood? Mayhem. I promise you, this is much better than it sounds.
“Human Satellites” : What could be more dividing than the discovery of a planet suitable to accommodate us all…
“Bright White Hearts” :A narrator who was born with the Sirenomelia syndrome takes us on a journey in the colours, the creatures of the water and the origin of life through a modern aquarium. A brilliant epilogue to the collection.
If you are still with me after this longer than long section, you’ll certainly realise the beauty and uniqueness of Campbell’s writing. I don’t need to say anything more. The stories will make you sad, uncomfortable, nervous. You will possibly smile at certain parts but not for long. There is a well-covered darkness than never becomes suffocating. It just lingers in the sidewalk to remind us of all those things that make our lives what they are, occupying our thoughts, forming our past, present and future. A series of twisted fairy tales that speak to the heart, comprising a book that I cannot praise enough….
“Once upon a time, there were four horsemen of the apocalypse.
God breathed them into the world with his fisted right hand.
‘I have a bow,’ said the white horse. ‘I represent Evil.’
‘I am War,’ said the red horse. ‘Mark my sword.’
‘I am Famine,’ said the black horse. ‘And all that comes with it.’
‘I am Death,’ said the pale horse, who was carrying Hades. ‘And this is the end of the whole wide world.’”