Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Review: ‘The End We Start From’ by Megan Hunter

Review: ‘The End We Start From’ by Megan Hunter

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

As London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place, shelter to shelter…

I finished The End We Start From earlier this morning and I feel like I can’t move on from it.  It’s haunting me, images from its pages are following me around and I just really want to talk about it.  So much so that I even tried reading passages from it out to my non-reader husband just so that I could share some of the truly stunning writing with someone. 

You know that feeling when you start a book and within the first few pages you just know that it’s going to be something really, really good?  I had that in absolute spades with The End We Start From.  After reading the first 32 pages, I texted my Dad to tell him to add it to his list of Charlotte Recommended books.

The story is sparsely told in brief images, haphazard memories and rushed vignettes.  Our narrator tells of her experiences after an environmental disaster hits London.  We see the immediate impact and feeling of disorientation as she gives birth to her first son, Z, as the world as she knows it falls apart.  What follows is a very personal, very direct account of the unnamed narrator’s efforts to raise a son and keep her family together in what are clearly horrendous circumstances.

It is bad, the news.  Bad news as it always was forever, but worse.  More relevant.  This is what you don’t want, we realise.  What no one ever wanted: for the news to be relevant.

It manages to be both an intimately detailed account of the experience of being a new mother (I imagine!) and a disconnected account of the changes in the world.  It’s quietly devastating. Our narrator’s focus is on her new family and on her immediate surroundings and so although we do occasionally get updates on what is happening more widely, they’re brief and more allusions than descriptions. For me, it worked. We can all imagine horrors enough without having to be told exactly what’s happening and it all serves to add to this new and unerring focus that our narrator has on Z.  It’s extremely striking and there were moments that absolutely broke my heart.

His hands circle in tiny, victorious fists.  I feel that I could, all things considered, conquer the world.

I’ve tried to think of another adjective but the best I can come up with is visceral.  I know that’s a bit of a cliche now but honestly, the writing feels so raw, so brutal.  For a book with so few words, I got more than a few punches to the gut.  I honestly don’t know how Hunter manages to do so much with so little but it’s masterful.  It is (forgive me) like poetry.  I’m usually more of a plot girl but with The End We Start From, I was in it for the writing too.  It can be abstract but it conveys the mind of a woman under strain superbly.  Who wouldn’t want to distract themselves from disaster with memories of happier times? It might have a unique style but I was still gripped and I still desperately wanted to know how things worked out for the characters.  I wanted to take my time and languish in the words.

Overall: I wouldn’t recommend this if you want a riotous, noisy dystopian whirlwind of a book but if you want something genuinely moving and utterly beautiful in its way, I absolutely recommend The End We Start From.  I almost never say this but I know that I’ll re-read this one day.  It’s only 132 pages but my goodness does Hunter make every single one count.

Date finished: 09 September 2017
Format: Hardback
Source: Bought from Wordery
Genre: Dystopian; Literary fiction
Pictured Edition Published: on November 2017 by Grove Atlantic

  • Ellie

    I am so tempted to go out and get this straight away. I am entering the don’t buy books portion of the year due to swapping and birthday and I can get a bit frustrated if people don’t get me the right things I’ve been holding out for 😀