I made the mistake of reading the first sentence of The End We Start From before going to bed. I hadn’t even intended to read it yet, I have other books that were in my pile ahead of it, but I read that first sentence and all hope of sleep was lost until I read the final one. I am so grateful it is a short book.
So what is the magic sentence? “I am hours from giving birth, from the event I thought would never happen to me, and R has gone up a mountain.” So few words, yet they prompt so many questions. Who is R, why has he gone up a mountain, and why did she think it would never happen? And of course, there is the anticipation of this new life.
It turns out that R is her husband and the world is falling into chaos as the sea rises, flooding London and driving people to seek refuge in the north. Power is gone, there are shortages of food, water, and medical care, all the dystopic possibilities of collapsing civilization are faced by this family, the unnamed woman, her husband R, and their infant Z. Hunter anonymizes everyone with initials instead of names, making this story feel so much more universal.
Hunter writes sparingly. Her paragraphs are short, often a single sentence. Her sentences are short as well and every word is deliberate, chosen to convey as much as possible. She writes like a poet, inventive and daring, forcing words to work hard, to say more than the obvious. She insists her readers work, too, to take her new constructions and understand “I am waterless” means her water broke. She gives new meaning to old ideas. The game of peek-a-boo a reassurance that something can come back again, a hint, too, of a possible new future.
The End We Start From overwhelmed me with its intensity. The words are simple, few, sparing, but they create such urgency that I could not put the book down. So much was unsaid, left for us to infer. The mother who is narrating the story observes the world collapsing while focusing on what is hers, this infant that she must succor and protect. That is her context; everything is measured relative to that. This gives her endurance and an equanimity that may have been impossible otherwise.
Often dystopic fiction can make you feel despair, but this one will not. Despite the cataclysm of the ocean flooding the world, there is this infant and what can be more hopeful than that?
The End We Start From will be published November 7th. I received an e-galley for review from the publisher through Edelweiss.