There is a lot of space in Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From. Known as a poet until now, her debut novel is written almost like a poem, but not quite. It’s not prose as we know it either. It’s fragmentary, somewhere in between.
Stark, sparse paragraphs, poetic words, no names, just letters of the alphabet. Everything is pared back to the bare minimum to create a startling story about the end of times. The End We Start From got under my skin.
Hunter’s choice of epigraph was a poem by 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.
She then shows us the end of our known world (via an environmentally disastrous flood that covers London) through the eyes of a young woman about to give birth to her first child. The story reads almost like her journal entries. Brief snatches of time captured through the lens of baby love.
Many reviewers talked about the not-so-new idea of comparing first-time mothering with the end of the world. Curiously it wasn’t this particular idea that captured my attention. I was intrigued by how this baby (and the other newborns) will be growing up in this new world which will be the only world that they know and understand. They won’t have to accommodate or change or adapt to this new world order; it is their world. They won’t spend their lives thinking about and regretting the wonderful old ways and wishing it could be like that again. They won’t be climate change deniers or head-in-the-sander’s; they will know, they will be living with it as a fact. They will belong to this new world. This is our hope and the way forward.
The story is contained not only within the carefully chosen words but also in the gaps and all that is unspoken. Hunter mentioned several times that she was trying to find a way to move between poetry and prose to find a form that suited her. It worked for me just fine.
London. Uninhabitable. A list of boroughs, like the shipping forecast, their names suddenly as perfect and tender as the names of children.
The cupboards reveal themselves more by the day: their wooden backs, the greying corners we never used to see.
Days are thin now, stretched so much that time pours through the.
Z has learnt to smile. He has cracked with it. The smiles built up inside him, R and me smiling madly into his face until it couldn’t hold any more. It cracked, and out came his smile, urgent, almost demented.
Hunter also interspersed these fragments with flood mythologies. They reminded us that since the beginning of recorded time, humans have been grappling with the chaos that mother nature throws our way. We make up stories to help us make sense of the unknown. It made me wonder what stories would then be made up for future generations about this disaster.
My only quibble was the ending. However so many authors these days fail to capture a satisfying end note that I’m becoming used to that feeling of let down after a great read. So much thought seems to go into the epigraph but the search for an equally apt epilogue is not always given the same care.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s company has apparently bought the movie rights to the book.
A shout-out to the brilliant cover design by Naomi Clark and illustration by Kazuko Nomoto. I picked this book up for the first time purely thanks to the lovely, lovely cover.
1/20 #20booksofsummer (winter)
16℃ in Sydney
20℃ in Northern Ireland