Coming in at only 140 pages, Megan Hunter’s fascinating experimental novel is more a prose-poem or novella, but with the intensity of a short story. The text is divided by *** and interspersed with quasi biblical quotations. Everything has been pared down to the minimum: sentences are often so short as to be almost cryptic and names are only initials.
In a near future London floods catastrophically:
An unprecedented flood. London. Uninhabitable. A list of boroughs, like the shipping forecast, their names suddenly as perfect and tender as the names of children. Ours.
The unnamed narrator has just given birth (to Z) so she and her partner, R head for the hills with millions of others, like mass hitchhiking with no lifts. The horror of sudden disaster and the struggle to survive is brought home by the stark contrast between the universality of what happens to them and the particulars of baby Z’s developmental progress:
here he is in his serious reaching, his controlled opening and sucking and swallowing… Z is trying to roll over… like someone trying to turn over a car with his bare hands. Impossible.
Megan Hunter’s debut novel is a tour de force of concision and emotional intensity. Not a word is wasted:
Here are some of R’s words for what happened: tussle, squabble, slaughter.
A sudden death is described almost as briefly as a telegram:
Panic. Crush. G. Panicked. Crushed.
There is also room for dark humour. When the family is trying to reach safety there is the disconnect between their previous comfortable, on-line lives and the present:
He has not spent hours poring over comparative reviews of refugee camps.
Without giving too much away this short tale of disaster could be bleak, but ends with the triumph of hope over adversity, the human will to keep going and survive. I’m working on a similar theme in my new novel so now that I’ve read The end we start from I’m really going to have to up my game!