Dystopian fiction is a genre I’ve really been enjoying over the last couple of years, so when I read the blurb of ‘The End We Start From’ by Megan Hunter*, I was really excited to get my hands on it. The story follows a woman and her newborn baby, named Z, who are forced to flee London after the city is submerged in flood waters. Often dystopian novels are founded on the concept of a corrupt government so to read an apocalyptic style story focused on a natural disaster was a nice change.
The juxtaposition of a dystopian story being focused on a newborn was an interesting one. Birth and new life are usually used to represent hope and a fresh start and in this instance, we have the opposite effect. Throughout the novel, we see Z grow and develop despite London and the lives of all the characters slowly deteriorating. The woman (whose name is never mentioned) tracks her journey of new motherhood and highlights the worry that now her life has changed in such a drastic way, motherhood is all she has, “It is all I have”.
Each character is referred to by an initial rather than a name. It was unclear whether this was an element of their world or whether it was the narrator’s personal way of referring to everyone. As a technique, it was really effective in showing the anonymity and uniformity of each character in the story. Since fleeing their homes, all the characters have been stripped of their individuality. It was also reflective of the way we view and speak of people who are in similar situations in real life. When we see similar scenes on the TV, of people fleeing their homes due to war, or natural disaster, we reduce them to numbers and fail to see them as individual people. When the baby is born, there is a discussion about what they should be called, a few more traditional names are suggested before the characters settle on Z, as if they know the looming disaster will rob them of any personal identity they have.
What struck me the most about this novella was the paratactic writing style. At times it felt more like reading a poem than a piece of prose. There was very little detail about the characters and their lives before the disaster. However, this is not detrimental to the development of the story in any way apart from feeling a little detached from some of the characters. It allows the story to move along at a good pace without having to dwell on details, the story begins instantly rather than spending half the book on world building and character development.
Throughout the book, I kept thinking how interesting it would be to see the story adapted into a play so I was really excited to hear that Benedict Cumberbatch’s company are adapting it into a film!
Have you read The End We Start From? Let me know what you thought in the comments!
*An early copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher via NetGalley, however, all opinions are my own and I am not being paid for this review*