As an unnamed woman gives birth to a son, floodwaters rise in London. Unable to return to their flat, the woman, her husband, R, and their baby, Z, go to R’s parents’ house. R begins to build a shed for them to live in.
Words float up the stairs like so many childhood letter magnets. Endgame, civilization, catastrophe, humanitarian.
Everyone but the narrator and Z leave to get supplies. G, her mother-in-law, doesn’t return, the explanation given is ‘pandemonium’. On the second trip to get supplies, N, her father-in-law fails to return. From that point, the narrator, R and Z are refugees, sleeping in their car before finally deciding on a camp to live in.
I try to feel the solidity of the date beneath me try to make the day and the month and the year mean something.
It is never quiet here. Z learns to cry loudly again. He is not the only one.
Hunter follows this woman cut adrift, literally and metaphorical, through a year of her life. While the narrative can be read as a dystopic version of the UK in which the effects of climate change have wrought havoc, it also works as a metaphor for the first year of motherhood. It mirrors the feelings of isolation and fear, of the loss of sense of self and sense of time.
The prose is sparse, considered. Paragraphs are short and there is plenty of white space on the page. The reader is also cut adrift, the first person narrative allowing us to only see and feel as this mother of a new-born does.
Interspersed with the narrator’s story are pieces inspired by and adapted from a range of mythical texts. These link to Hunter’s themes: ideas of creation, flooding and the quest for a better place to live. They add to the sense that the narrative is a carefully crafted jigsaw puzzle that’s been laid out in the correct order but left for someone else to slot together.
The End We Start From is powerful, taut, compelling, unsettling. A bold, beautiful work of art.
Thanks to Picador for the review copy.