Megan Hunter’s debut novel, The End We Start From is set in and around London after water levels rise quickly and dramatically. It’s dystopian, it’s short and it’s about one woman and her newborn baby trying to survive in a new world order.
There are good reasons why this book sparked a hotly contested auction among 5 publishers at the 2016 London Book Fair, and why Benedict Cumberbatch’s production company has now paid good money for the right to turn it into a film.
More art than fiction
The language is truly exquisite. It’s a little jarring – there are no names, only first initials (which reminded me at first of the Story of O, which has absolutely nothing in common with this book…).
Phrases are short and words are simple, but they add up to so much more. Like poetry. Here’s a taster from the beginning, when she’s in labour:
They try to put the football on. I growl. I growl more and more, and finally I am waterless, the pool of myself spreading slowly past my toes. They flap like small birds around the water, they perch on my giant head, they speak of kettles and hot towels.
I tell them I have to push, and they back away, reaching for their phones.
Familiar story line, short book
It’s a classic dystopia – there’s nothing new in the story line, except that it’s told through the lens of a new mother, and I wonder if that’s the point? So much end-of-the-world stories are told from the point of view of soldiers and scientists who are trying to beat the threat. Alien invasions, meteors headed for earth, nuclear holocausts.
But what if you happened to be pregnant at the end of the world? What if the people who were supposed to be protecting and supporting you and your newborn disappeared or died, one by one?
Not surprisingly, given its abbreviated and poetic prose, this is an incredibly short book. I found this probably the most upsetting of anything about the book. It ended so abruptly and with no sense of the ending coming.
It did, however, suit the book well – trying to find any real sense of of time, emotion and pace in The End We Start From is like wading through thick treacle. And yet, wade through it impatiently, I did.
As Benedict Cumberbatch said when he bought the film rights:
The End We Start From is a stunning tale of motherhood. Megan has crafted a striking and frighteningly real story of a family fighting for survival that will make everyone stop and think about what kind of planet we are leaving behind for our children.
Disclosure: I received a copy from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.