Megan Hunter’s very slim novel (it’s really a novelette, but who’s counting) The End We Start From beautifully marries together a world-wide environmental collapse with the difficulties of giving birth and rearing children when the normal support mechanisms no longer exist.
Hunter’s prose is poetic but sparse. Characters are not given names, just initials. Tonally it has an almost detached quality. And yet somehow the book manages to be a powerful reading experience. Partly this is because it is so short, it would have been difficult to sustain this style for longer than the 17,000 words that comprise the book. And partly Hunter’s careful attention to word choice (I can’t provide a specific example because I left my hard-copy… yes I READ A HARD COPY!… at home, but trust me) which brilliantly intertwines a mother’s sense of uncertainty and fear with her complete devotion to her child born into a world that has abruptly changed forever.
While we can read this book as a commentary on the environmental crisis that we all face, and how it will affect those who lack agency, our protagonist’s journey can easily be overlaid against the current refugees crisis in Syria and other parts of the world less talked about. This book reminds us that becoming a refugee is not a lifestyle choice but something imposed by forces outside of most people’s control. The fact that we turn mother’s and children away or lock them up in detention centers is a disgrace.
As a book about motherhood it’s interesting to compare The End We Start From with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road which is about fatherhood and has a much bleaker outlook. Could motherhood have an inherent quality of hope that fatherhood lacks? Or is that just a whole load of gender essentialist clap-trap? I’m probably not the person to best answer that but it’s refreshing to have motherhood so front and centre in a sub-genre (the dystopian, the post-apocalyptic) that generally doesn’t give this stage of life much consideration.
I highly recommend The End We Start From. I also highly recommend buying the hardcopy, beautifully packaged by Picador.