Friday, January 5, 2018

The End We Start From

Title:  The End We Start From
Author:  Megan Hunter
Publication Information:  Grove Press. 2017. 170 pages.
ISBN:  0802126898 / 978-0802126894

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I am hours from giving birth, from the even I thought would never happen to me, and R has gone up a mountain."

Favorite Quote:  "There are so many different kinds of quiet, and only one word for them."

The "end" with which this book begins is an undefined cataclysmic, apocalyptic flood in and around London. It destroys in its path and forces people to become refugees from their homes. People flee, both to escape and to seek shelter and safety. Unfortunately, neither are easily found. People die; families are separated; life as people know it is left behind.

The "start" of this book is the birth of a child. Even in the face of death, destruction, and loss, a mother delights in her child and would do all she can to protect the child. A child's innocence sees and feels that love, despite the dire circumstances the family finds itself in.

The focus of the story is clearly on the "start". This is a book about motherhood and about the physical and emotional aspects of of the mother-child relationship. It is about the wonders and the fears of motherhood. The fear of bringing an infant in such a hostile environment. The physical toll of mothering. The amazing creature that a baby is. The joy at every milestone.

The apocalyptic flood, its causes, or its eventual resolution are not developed within the book. Is the flood literal? Is it an isolated natural disaster? Is it a thought to the changes of global warming? Is the disaster a metaphorical nod to the man-made humanitarian and refugee crises around the world currently? The questions are never answered. As a reader, I want answers, but, at the same time, the questions leave it up to me the reader. What do I bring to the book, and how do I choose to interpret it?

This "open to interpretation" approach is also magnified by the fact that the characters are given no names and no real physical descriptions. They are referenced by initials. The narrator is the mother. The baby is Z. The father is R. People they meet along the way include O and C. Again, as a reader, I want characterization and names. The use of initials is at times a grating note in the book especially since names come up often in the first-person narrative style of writing. It also prevents a more personal connection for me because a name goes a long way towards that connection. However, again, it leaves the images up to the reader. Who do you see in the characters?

At under 200 pages, this book is brief, very brief. The short, choppy writing style serves to enhance that feeling. At time, this book feels more like poetry than prose.

The writing style, the initials, and the lack of exposition means that this book takes work to follow and interpret. At times, it's too much, and the book feels like it's trying too hard to be original and philosophical. At times, it works. I am left somewhere in between. I will remember it, but as a book that I am unsure about. As it is a debut novel, I will look for more of Megan Hunter's work to see what direction she pursues next.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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