Reviewed by Kelsie Colclough
The End We Start From is Megan Hunter’s ambitious debut novella. Exploring motherhood in a flooded Britain is a fascinating concept delivered in the novella in a shaky format. The End We Start From leaves you feeling that more than Britain has flooded and been swept away; character names are reduced to one letter and paragraphs are as short as a sentence do their best to fill the gaps between the tides.
Except for the main character, everyone is addressed by a single letter. The main character, new mother of Z and wife of R, is nameless. Pulled into her first-person narrative, we’re brought into a world where confusion threatens to drown what words remain. With each new character introduced, confusion builds as you keep track of the short identifiers. The lack of full names is never explained. Why the floods truly happened is never explained. The End We Start From remains in her limited view, where our curiosity doesn’t come under her priorities.
The book’s focus is on motherhood. Hunter’s novella struggles at times to maintain its emotion as the new mother can feel detached from the world around her, perhaps from shock, and so while the relationship between her and her baby is there it is difficult to feel a strong connection to the two of them. You feel alone as you watch their journey unfold. The book delivers fantastic snippets of emotion between the mother and child: “Z learns to cry loudly again. He is not the only one.” These have a big impact when they hit but compared to McCarthy’s The Road, the connection with the child seems sparse. You’re left wanting the book to carry its promise of connection just a little further. Still, those snippets of sympathy do well to communicate the nightmare of the floods and the lingering worry of climate change hoovers at the borders of our imagination, threating to spill over at any moment.
The novella uses a strange, but oddly captivating format of short paragraphs and snippets of scenes to tell the story of the new mother’s journey. The gaps exist as if as if the book is taking deep breaths in between each paragraph. Some have described the novella as more like poetry than prose, and while it’s not an inaccurate description, the book reads more like pieces of someone’s notebook. The mother scrawls pieces of her life on the pages and we’re just trying to put the notes together. Often, I would want more from the book and all it gave me were page breaks. Still, what it does give is good quality. But don’t go into this book expecting your curiosity to be satisfied.
While The End We Start From offers no answers, it does offer moments of stunningly insightful prose. The writing has outstanding moments like “We are the only people here. The truth: we’ve always felt like this” which brings a common human experience to the forefront. The novella fears climate change for the loneliness it will reveal to us as human relationships suffer as the land we stand on falls apart, so does everything else. That sense of interconnected self isn’t rare in climate dystopias, but The End We Start From is ambitious in the way it is communicated.
The plot of the novella is sparse, with Z and his mother drifting from place to place, searching for safety, and hoping to be reunited with R. The End We Start From has no action-packed plot, instead it is devoted to watching Z grow. The mother’s focus is on Z, her baby son, and this acts as an anchor for a book that would otherwise slip away from us all together. The action of the floods appears close to the characters as it disrupts their lives but is most often on the edges of their reality.
From a technical standpoint, The End We Start From is an interesting take on the dystopian narrative. For its unique method, the novella has little left to spend on its characters. Connection is fleeting and the novella can lack emotional impact at times. However, it has some good moments, overall good descriptions, and the format is a unique way to approach a dystopian world. It is thought provoking without being overwhelming. The novella leaves you feeling uncertain for the future it speculates and unsure of what you’ve just experienced, but glad that you did.
About Kelsie Colclough
Kelsie Colclough holds a BA in English & Creative Writing from Staffordshire University. She has been published in Variety Pack, Corvid Queen, and Palm Sized Press. She can be found on Twitter @klcolclough.