‘The window is completely black, the darkness total. We are the only people here. The truth: we’ve always felt like this.’
I picked up Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From late last night when I could not sleep. In the space of an hour, I devoured it in one sitting. Her sparse yet lyrical story of a mother and child surviving a newly perilous world simply blew we away.
Like many others, I have read many books from the apocalyptic genre. Often these stories are a cautionary tale filled with backstories and complicated catastrophic disasters. The End We Start From strips the genre back to its bare essentials.
Our focus throughout is the relationship between mother and child. From the beginning, we are given the impression that this is the only world that really matters ans what follows is a novel that becomes a beautiful ode to motherhood.
We never know the mother, or in fact any other character, by name. We meet her just as ‘the moment of birth looms ahead…like the loss of virginity did, as death does.’ She brings Z into a dangerous world, but despite this he grows into a bouncing baby boy interested only in breast milk and achieving milestones.
Z is undoubtedly the shining light of hope throughout the novel. He is only reason why his mother accepts each setback and continues to live on. The ‘optimistic colours of nappy packaging’ and his playful gurgles add colour to a world slowly slipping into darkness.
‘I can see people by the roadside, walking in groups. Like mass hitchhiking with no lifts. Some have children balanced on their shoulders. Some are limping.’
During these early days of parenthood, the world’s oceans inexplicably and quickly begin to rise at an unprecedented level. The author portrays this flood as a biblical reckoning. Passages from Genesis are sprinkled amongst the text to provide a context and backdrop to the events.
As homes are destroyed and communications disrupted, eventually ‘the cupboards reveal themselves more by the day: their wooden backs, the greying corners we never used to see.’ Family members are sent to scavenge for food and never return. Violence erupts. Refugee camps are established. While the world closes around our characters, more and more Z and his mother take centre stage.
‘We are told not to panic, the most panic-inducing instruction known to man.’
Less is definitely more when it comes to considering The End We Start From. Hunter superbly uses this approach to great effect. It allows the reader’s imagination to fill in the gaps carefully placed by the author. It builds a prolonged tension that I have not enjoyed since I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But best of all, it ensures that everyone will walk away from this novel with a different reading experience. From a debut novelist, these are fantastic attributes to have attached to your first novel. What a read. I look forward to future works from this talented author.
‘Then we say the secret: there is no skill. There is only another person, smaller than you’
Would I recommend this book to a friend?
Yes, yes, yes! Because of its short length and high quality, this book is ideal for reading, passing on and discussing with your bookworm friends. Very few books can be read in such a short time yet leave such a long lasting impression. The End We Start From is an instant classic.
- The title of this book is inspired by a line found within T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
‘What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.’
- For an insightful Q&A with the author, go to http://www.foyles.co.uk/Author-Megan-Hunter