What’s it all about?:
In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z’s small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.
This is a story of new motherhood in a terrifying setting: a familiar world made dangerous and unstable, its people forced to become refugees. Startlingly beautiful, Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From is a gripping novel that paints an imagined future as realistic as it is frightening. And yet, though the country is falling apart around them, this family’s world – of new life and new hope – sings with love.
What did I think?:
First of all, a huge thank you to Picador for approving me to read this short but powerful novel on NetGalley in return for an honest review. The End We Start From was subject to a ferocious bidding war following the London Book Fair and I first came across it on Twitter where it seemed to be everywhere. There were even some that thought it might be long-listed for the Man Booker Prize this year. This is why I’m a bit concerned that my review might fall firmly into the realm of the “unpopular opinions.” Don’t get me wrong, the writing is absolutely incredible, so lyrical and beautiful and I was so excited by the synopsis of the book but something just fell a little flat for me. I’m a little relieved to find that I’m not the only one that felt this way (from looking at reviews on GoodReads) but I can’t help but feel that I was missing something and that it’s the sort of book I should have just loved.
We don’t know when the story is set, we are never told. We can assume it’s a dystopian future where (possibly climate change?) has precipitated catastrophic weather changes in the United Kingdom, leading to extreme flooding and the majority of the population having to flee London for dryer areas, many ending up in refugee camps until the waters subside. This is the situation that our narrator, her husband and their newborn son find themselves in. After the chaos of the floods lead to the disappearance/deaths of her husband’s parents, our narrator finds herself then separated from her husband and stuck in a camp where she must form new alliances and find a way of living. Her sole focus is obviously the survival and upbringing of her infant son.
It’s hard to describe this novel in more detailed terms. When I first began, I was very intrigued, especially when our narrator is left on her own with her son. Then, it almost became a meditation on motherhood and the stages that her son goes through as he starts to develop in a strange new world where food and shelter is not guaranteed and the future is uncertain. The characters are referred to just by an initial, so our narrator’s husband is R, her son is Z, etc. I was never quite sure whether this worked for me. It stripped the characters of all their individuality (which may have been the point!) but I never felt like I could connect with them or learn much about them as a result. The author uses quite short, snappy sentences to tell the story which are nothing short of stunning and so poetic and gorgeous but everything was just too vague and detached for me to fully invest with the narrative.
We never know what exactly has happened to the world to cause these disastrous events, there is no dialogue between any of the characters and at no time did I ever feel really involved with our narrator and her situation. After all the hype this book has got, I have to say I’m a bit disappointed, it really wasn’t for me. The rating I have given it is purely for the beauty of the writing alone, plot wise I was expecting so much more. I’m sure there are people out there that will absolutely lap this novel up and perhaps I need to read it again and just appreciate the language used and the structure of the sentences which the author definitely does have a huge talent for – who knows? If you’ve read it, I’d love to know what you thought!
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):