This is a story of new motherhood in a terrifying setting: a familiar world made dangerous and unstable, its people forced to become refugees.
‘The End We Start From’ is a breathtaking novella. Hunter brings her story to life through a woman’s quest for survival in a world that is falling apart, this would make anyone stand up and take notice; but Hunter incorporates this cataclysmic event with the birth of a child and this is where the book pulls at your heartstrings and takes you deeper into a majestic story. We watch as mother, child and father flee their homes in a quest for survival, a journey that stretches relationships and boundaries and showcases a mother’s love for her child in a way never seen before.
‘He turns away. He cries himself down for the first time, dragging himself to the unconscious wail by wail. Once he is asleep, I stare at the flushed oblivion of his cheeks.’
Hunter chooses a masterful creative component to her storytelling, which I believe makes the book that more accessible and personal to a wider audience. All of her characters within ‘The End We Start From‘ are given a letter which pertains to their name. For instance, the baby of the story is called Z. This creative choice enables the reader to picture their own people, their own assumptions on what these characters are like, all pre-conceived ideas you get from a name are left redundant and I felt that this creative element made the work more personable as I was given the freedom to create these people in my mind; without my own assumptions or prejudices being relied upon if names were used.
‘One day we are looking for the talent shows and we flick past the news, like catching a glass on the edge of the sink with your sleeve. That is a good one. It is just like that, all the smashed glass on the floor, all the pieces of what we knew laid out in front of us. Sharp.
I flick the channel onwards, sweep it away before it can cut us: the quickness, the confusion, the way dead people’s feet stick up like that under sheets, as though giving a final salute.’
The key to this novella is in the detail. At times, I was reading and remembering my own children doing the things that Z gets up to. It also had me reminiscing about the first time my child rolled off the sofa and slammed onto the floor; how bad I thought I was for letting this happen, how could I be a parent that allowed this to happen. These doubts of parenthood, these moments of self-loathing and fear are all present in ‘The End We Start From’.
‘Z has a bath now, and a room. He is a real boy, I think. He is no longer a puppet dragged through chaos. He has form.’
Hunter uses the themes mostly associated with horror and suspense to great effect, she gives you a piece of the jigsaw and allows the reader to create and build the unseen terror for themselves. Revealing clues to the troubles without spelling it out, these strokes of magic help to raise the tension and allow the mind to create its own thoughts as to what has happened and what is going on. What is more powerful than the horrors lurking inside each and every one of us?
The structure of ‘The End We Start From’ is exquisite, the prose reads like slices from a diary, the innermost thoughts of a new mother, raising a child in a world she can’t recognize; we become almost lost in her inner monologue, tangled amongst her thoughts and fears. At times the writing is poetic which is understandable given Hunter’s grasp of poetry. ‘The End We Start From‘ showcases perfectly that poetry and fiction can work together and in doing so, create a book that is daring and fierce.
‘There are so many different kinds of quiet, and only one word for them. The quiet in the house has matured from quiet as lack of noise to something else, a textured, grainy quiet, a thickness to stumble through.’
Hunter I strongly believe has reinvented the dystopian novel with ‘The End We Start From’. Moving away from huge set pieces, zombies, infections resulting in the end of the world; whilst also giving a wide berth to large landscapes cloaked in dystopian decadence. Hunter opts to set her story in a dystopian world but plays those cards close to her chest, only allowing us glimpses of the chaos in the world and instead turning our attention inwards, making the story quite claustrophobic, personal and human.
It’s a heart rending tale of new life, love, loss and finding your place in a world that is falling apart.
‘I could find this funny, all the water in the world, and nothing for a stone cherub to squirt from his tiny penis.’
Megan Hunter was born in Manchester in 1984, and now lives in Cambridge with her young family. She has a BA in English Literature from Sussex University, and an MPhil in English Literature: Criticism and Culture from Jesus College, Cambridge. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, alongside her dystopian novel, The End We Start From.
The End We Start From is published by Picador and can be purchased here.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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