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The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

A dystopian novel like no other.

Whatever I imagine, it is something else.

Told in the shortest of segments charting an unnamed woman's journey north to escape the rising flood that overtakes the U.K. — fleeing with her husband and newborn baby they travel north, meeting other refugees along the way and taking shelter where they can find it. Unlike a usual dystopian novel this is more a meditation of motherhood and loss than a traditional dystopian novel filled with thrills and action. The horrors happen off-stage and instead, we are presented with a mother's hope, love and wonder for her growing child against a backdrop of fear, confusion and danger.

moreLike The Girl With All The Gifts or The Day of the Triffids, it's interesting to see how a U.K. landscape, especially London and then Scotland are transformed from the familiar into the uncanny or alien. Scotland becomes a haven of high-ground while London's skyscrapers are later repurposed into temporary relocation centres.

The prose is written in short paragraphs, one or two sentences at most and interspersed with a mythic narrative that is ambiguous as to whether it proceeds or follows the main storyline, either a premonition catastrophe or a mythologised version of it from much later:

Every beast perished, every moving thing. Only one man and one woman survived on the waters, their bodies kept in a wooden box.

Our unnamed narrated exists in almost a limbo-like world, and is always in a constant state of transition, from place to place, from relationship to relationship, the only constant in her life her small baby, but even he changes day by day suddenly able to roll himself over or grasp objects much to her delight.

Even the other characters are unnamed referred to only by the first letter of her name, so the baby is 'Z' the narrator's husband 'R', her friend is only 'O'. The baby's name, of course, echoes the wider theme of the book, named after the last letter in the alphabet, born at the end of the world, marking a huge shift in the mother's life in so many ways, but he is crucially the start of things, the hope of the next generation.

These characters drift in and out of the narration, and this combined with the dislocation from the main action creates a dreamy sense of disconnect. The dread never feels too real and to its detriment, there is never any impending sense of threat for the character's well-being. Even when the mother and her husband are separated her sense of loss never quite reaches the reader. This is perhaps intentional to set it apart from the usual thriller style dystopian novels and to heighten the bond between mother and baby, but it did occasionally leave me cold to their plight, more a passive onlooker rather than actively engaged what I was reading.

I would hugely recommend this book, not least because it's doing something so different with the dystopian genre by centring the narrative on a mother and child in this way and says so much with so little. It's delicious sparse prose crackles with unseen catastrophe.

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