The End We Start From is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who goes into labour in the opening pages. With a healthy baby delivered, she, her husband and their new-born child are forced to leave their home as London is submerged below flood waters.
They move from place to place seeking shelter and food whilst watching Z’s development as he grows, thriving despite the worsening conditions around him.
This is possibly the briefest synopsis I’ve written for a novel, and yet it says that all that needs to be said, and the brevity seems suitably in keeping with the novel which is a much slimmer volume than I expected.
The End We Start From is set in a flooded England. The reason for the floods is unknown, the reader and the nameless narrator know only that:
the water is rising faster than they thought. It is creeping faster. A calculation error.
Many are forced to flee their homes seeking higher ground, and shelters are set up to give a home to those with nowhere else to go. As resources begin to dwindle, there are hints at atrocities committed as people loot, pillage and stockpile goods for themselves and their families. This always happens off screen however – the narrator is aware of it, and so, therefore, is the reader, yet we never come face to face with any of the violence that often occurs immediately after a disaster such as this.
Juxtaposed with this rather bleak setting is the narrator’s joy in Z, her new-born baby boy. This aspect of the novel made it completely unique – there are tales set in the midst of an apocalypse and its aftermath that deal with childbearing, the raising of those children and the difficulties that this entails when our usual support networks are no longer available, but Hunter makes this a much more significant element of the story than most do. I really enjoyed reading the catalogue of the baby’s “firsts” – the first smile, laugh, tooth etc. – and the gradual progression of Z against the backdrop of a world forced to a halt.
Stylistically, this novel won’t appeal to everyone. It’s disjointed, with incredibly short paragraphs – if you can count the combinations of 2-3 sentences paragraphs at all, and the sentences are usually brief. There’s not a single word of dialogue. The only name mentioned is the baby’s – Zed, although this is only mentioned once – for the rest of the story it’s Z, just as all the other names are denoted by a single initial. This might be confusing in any other novel, yet there are so few characters here that it’s not an issue. Similarly, this is not a novel with answers, where everything is explained neatly by the final page. Yet through the incredibly spare language, Hunter manages to convey so much.
The End We Start From manages to be simultaneously haunting and melancholy, yet also uplifting, and it is definitely a novel that will stay with me – I absolutely adored it. An incredibly timely novel for our uncertain times which touches on both the impact of climate change as well as looking at the fate of refugees, The End We Start From conveys a message of hope at our capacity to continue and to adapt, whatever challenges we’re faced with.
The End We Start From will be published on 18 May 2017 by Picador – many thanks to Camilla Elworthy for providing a copy for review.