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The End We Start From

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As London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place, shelter to shelter, to a desolate island and back again. The story traces fear and wonder, as the baby’s small fists grasp at the first colors he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.

Written with poise and poeticism, The End We Start From is an indelible and elemental first book—a lyrical vision of the strangeness and beauty of new motherhood, and a portentous tale of endurance in the face of ungovernable change.

"The End We Start From is strange and powerful, and very apt for these uncertain times. I was moved, terrified, uplifted – sometimes all three at once. It takes skill to manage that, and Hunter has a poet’s understanding of how to make each word count.”—Tracy Chevalier

136 pages, Hardcover

First published November 14, 2017

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About the author

Megan Hunter

3 books279 followers
Megan Hunter’s first novel, The End We Start From, was published in 2017 in the UK, US, and Canada, and has been translated into eight languages. It was shortlisted for Novel of the Year at the Books Are My Bag Awards, longlisted for the Aspen Words Prize, was a Barnes and Noble Discover Awards finalist and won the Forward Reviews Editor’s Choice Award. Her writing has appeared in The White Review, The TLS, Literary Hub, BOMB Magazine and elsewhere. Her second novel, The Harpy, will be published in 2020.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,765 reviews
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews697 followers
March 10, 2020
My first reaction upon finishing this book is no. I didn't know what it was about, so I just kept reading and trying to decipher what was going on the whole time. I got very annoyed by the choppy writing and the vagueness. It does become clear that it's about a women who recently gives birth in a world where things are unstable, but the instability is also itself vague, at points there's reference to war, though there are some things that allude to the environmental crisis/flooding that I just read about in the summary. The premise itself is an interesting one actually, and I would be down to read a novel about surviving in a world with marked instability while just having given birth and trying to deal with a new born. I think the writing style just threw me here, it felt annoying and it didn't really make me form any attachments to the characters so the whole time I was just like waiting to finish the book. Also what was the purpose of using the first initial instead of names? Like it just made it more detached. I'm sure an argument could be made for the writing style being a way to set a certain tone and capture the feeling of discombobulation around living in a world filled with sudden instability and of new motherhood. If that is what the author was trying to do though I don't think it was done very well.
Profile Image for Hannah.
588 reviews1,045 followers
November 14, 2017
Beautifully and frustratingly sparse. This book is written in absolutely stunning prose that in places feels like poetry. It is stylistically wonderful - its sparseness works great in conveying the way the world has shrunk around the protagonist; minimizing her field of vision around the essentials: her new-born son and her husband.

Set in the not so distant future when the oceans have risen dramatically and drowned much of England, the main character has just given birth to her son when she has to leave London to go North. We follow her from place to place, meeting people, losing people, finding people. The plot is near irrelevant though: it is more a meditation on motherhood, on beginnings and endings, on love and loss. All the characters are only referred to by their initials, leaving the reader at a distance and rendering this very personal tale universal.

I adored the way this book was told; I enjoyed the juxtaposition of motherhood and the end-times and I found many sentences beautiful beyond words. It was a highly satisfying reading experience - however, I am not sure how much of it will stick with me. The book is too short and sparse to really tell a story and the language while stunning does not help the feeling of detachment. The book is full with metaphors and foreshadowing and mixes the personal and the universal in a highly stylized matter. But sometimes I like books told in style and glitter and beautiful sentences. Here I did.

First sentence: "I am hours from giving birth, from the event I thought would never happen to me, and R has gone up a mountain."
I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,481 reviews29.4k followers
November 7, 2017
I rate this 3.5 stars.

Sometime in the future, London is submerged beneath floodwaters, and people fear the end of the world is drawing near. As the floods approach a woman gives birth to a baby boy, Z. Within a few days, she and her husband R must flee their home and search for a safer place.

Each day they worry about whether the floods will find them. When they take refuge with R's parents, they discover that the fear is never far away from them. And while the woman is worried about what is happening in the world around her, and how R is reacting to it all, she spends so much of each day simply marveling at her baby and how he is growing, flourishing even as the future is uncertain. She is overwhelmed by her maternal feelings, by the miracle she and R created.

As the trio moves to a camp where other displaced people are living, the claustrophobia, the uncertainty, the panic becomes too much for R to bear. He leaves his wife and baby, ostensibly to see what other options are out there, but both know what this departure could signify.

"He says it will only be for a week or so. To get a break. To look into other options. He says we should stay, that it is safer. The relief is hanging from him, a loose shirt. I look at the car before I lose it. I try to take in all of its details. Before he leaves, I put his full hand over my face, like a mask. I do this even though there is no point. Even though smells can't be held."

As circumstances force her to move again, she begins making friends with others in similar situations. But she longs for her husband, reflects on their love, and tries not to stagger under her feelings of love and responsibility for her son. She cannot stop living even though she misses her husband, because she must live for her son. She must show him love, experience his moments of joy and sadness, and watch him grow.

I never would have imagined a book so sparsely written could be so lyrical, but The End We Start From feels almost poetic at times. Megan Hunter chose her words so carefully, it was as if she wanted to be sure no excess words distracted from the beauty of her writing.

"Our city is here, somewhere, but we are not. We are all untied, is the thing. Untethered, floating, drifting, all these things. And the end, the tether, the re-leash, is not in sight."

As much as Hunter's prose is breathtaking, the story itself could use a little more meat. Maybe it was her intent for her readers to fill in the blanks she left in the story, but I would have preferred a bit more narrative. I also found the gimmick of referring to every character with their first initial (the protagonist only interacted with one person per letter, it appeared) to be a little twee. I'm never a fan of books that refer to people or places that way.

This was a moving, thought-provoking read, one that I completed in one sitting. (I took a bit longer for lunch because I had to finish this book.) I liked it a good deal but didn't love it as I'd hoped—it's not perfect, and Hunter's storytelling choices may rub some the wrong way. To me, however, The End We Start From signifies the birth of a new literary talent. Megan Hunter is definitely one to watch, because if this is her first novel, I can only imagine what comes next.

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,694 reviews14.1k followers
November 1, 2017
A very interesting and timely premise. The water levels are rising, London already under water, and it is spreading to cover different cities and towns. A young woman is about to give birth, and soon has baby Z. Fascinating juxtsposition, a pending breakdown of society, with the wonder of a new birth. They are forced to move, again and again from camp to camp, as the water rises, and as food supplies dwindle. Baby Z grows, and a mother's love for her child very apparent.

The story is told in short, sparse paragraphs, with quotes from the book of Genesis, creation and the flood, interspersed between certain segments. This was done so well, but there was one hurdle I could not overcome. The constant use of initials, bugged me to no end, and also made this short book confusing, trying to sort out and remember who was who. Possibly this was done to show that in a society collapse, an environmental disaster, names no longer matter, only survival does, but for me it lessened the impact of the story bring told.

I am not sorry I read this, it had important issues to convey, and many reviewers did not find the same impossibility of jumping through the hurdle that I could not. Judge for yourself.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,276 reviews2,213 followers
November 5, 2017
When I finished this short, thought provoking novel, which I read in almost one sitting, my reaction on the one hand was that this could be seen as a bold debut or on the other as an overly ambitious one. There is no dialogue, the characters are nameless except for an initial, and the structure of the book is different than most novels. I lean toward the bold even with a reservation about nameless characters.

Some catastrophic event is occurring. Though we never are told specifically, the devastating floods leaving London under water and surrounding areas in danger, there was for me an innate understanding that it was brought out by mankind, by perhaps a lack of acknowledgement of the causes of climate change. Our narrator gives birth at the beginning of the story and immediately I felt the hope and beauty of this set against what was happening. The imminent danger of the water, the food shortages, and the instinct for survival, for themselves and the new baby Z , is the impetus for moving north to her husband R's family. It is here that the direness of the circumstances which up until this point seem removed, hit home . The world around them is flooding and society has fallen apart. People are lost to "the disturbances" looking for food and to survive they must move from place to place , shelters and camps . Yet in spite of it all, a new born baby thrives, a woman moves through the beginnings of her journey of motherhood.

Right from the beginning I didn't like the use of initials instead of names . Maybe this is a way of making them appear as everyone, anywhere , but for me it removed a level of the connection I want to have with characters in the book I'm reading. Having said that, I loved the structure, short chapters with short paragraphs interspersed with biblical quotes and some lovely lyrical lines from other places. There are beautiful passages of a new mother's awareness of the baby she holds in her arms. Eerie and haunting, a little hopeful, this is a warning call in what could happen. I’m looking forward to what Megan Hunter will do next.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Grove Atlantic through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,712 reviews2,238 followers
November 14, 2017

”What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

”I am hours from giving birth, from the event I thought would never happen to me, and R has gone up a mountain.”

She is thirty-two weeks pregnant when the announcement is made that the water is rising even faster than they thought. She is thirty-nine weeks pregnant when they return to tell them they don’t have to move, it was all a miscalculation.

R returns from the mountain hours after their son is born, they name him Zeb, but he is forever after referred to as Z. Z – the sound of soft slumber.

Forced to leave their apartment soon after Z’s birth, they go to the home of R’s parents, where they stay a while in their countryside home. Eventually they leave; they need to keep going to find a place of their own. A place where the means to survive are not quite so meager.

”At first there was only the sea, only the sky. From the sky came a rock, which dropped deep into the sea. A thick slime covered the rock, and from this slime words grew.”

As the world they knew grows more distant from the life they are living, Z grows, as well. An infant whose daily, weekly, monthly changes are visible, a living reminder of the hope that comes with new beginnings.

Interspersed are snippets of apocalyptic projections, some are biblical in nature with a mixture of various cultural myths of creation thrown in, all read as though they were written with a heavenly touch. However, there are some exceptions in this novel where the writing is overwrought and some exceptions where, to me, a chosen phrase makes little sense.

A cautionary tale about climate change, an ode to the bond of a mother and child, to the bonds we form to help us better weather these tumultuous days. A reminder that, sometimes, in order to get where we want to go we need to find a way to make a new beginning.

Pub Date: 14 Nov 2017

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Grove Atlantic / Grove Press
Profile Image for Liz.
1,962 reviews2,410 followers
October 24, 2017
What a strange book. The writing is very sparse. At time, the book reads more like someone’s notes about a book than an actual story. And it's funny how the use of initials instead of names threw me for a loop.

In this book a woman gives birth to her firstborn just as a flood envelopes London. She and her husband escape to a mountain to live with his parents. But they are forced to keep moving and half the time the reasons are not filled in. People come, people go. It's like as the world ends, so does her ability to maintain a complete thought. Most of this book revolves around watching her baby grow and the normalcy of his development contrasted with how the outside world has changed.

I'm sure the choppy writing was meant to symbolize what was happening. But for me, it just irritated. It was all I could do to finish this and the only reason I did is that it's a very short book.

My thanks to netgalley and Picador for an advance copy of this book.

Profile Image for Peter Boyle.
480 reviews585 followers
April 23, 2017
This slender novel was the subject of a bidding frenzy at the London Book Fair and my Twitter feed has been singing its praises for the past few months. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy so I decided to see what all the commotion is about.

The story is set in the UK of the near future. An unprecedented environmental catastrophe occurs and much of London lies underwater. Chaos reigns - nobody was prepared for a disaster of this magnitude. The narrator is forced to flee her apartment with husband R and baby Z in order to escape the "Gulp Zone." They make it to the house of R's parent's in the country which is safe, but contains limited supplies. Food is scarce and people are desperate. This young family will have to battle against all odds to survive in an unforgiving, alien landscape.

Great, yet another dystopian tale, I hear you say. Well what sets this story apart is the writing style. It has quite a poetic lean and there are some striking turns of phrase, as Hunter imagines the fallout to such a crisis. The hungry survivors of the flood "have started to look like models, all visible angles." The silence in a deserted house is described as "a textured, grainy quiet, a thickness to to stumble through." The narrator awakes on another uncertain morning "still crusty-eyed and climbing out of dreams."

But not all of it works, and there were lines that baffled me. "The idea came as a miniaturized image, a crisp packet in the oven." Not quite sure what that one is about. And "the stacked supply in the cupboard that grew shorter every day, like a reverse child" just feels plain awkward to me.

It's all very vague and mysterious, and to be honest I would have appreciated a little more depth and detail. The whole story is only 160 pages long and it needs more meat on its bones. It works best when it explores the joys and fears of motherhood, and the innocence of a growing baby, oblivious to the turmoil unfurling around him. In patches, The End We Start From is a haunting, lyrical parable about climate change but I finished it underwhelmed and disillusioned about what might have been.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,122 followers
June 20, 2017
After digesting for a couple days, am still not quite sure how I feel about this short dystopian read. Initially confused...I wanted more. The story is vague with much left unsaid, but fear of the unknown is there.

In the beginning...or is it the end...an expectant mother's water breaks and a child called Z is born. (No names here...only single capital letters for characters.) In a desolate new...or is it old...world, water is flooding the country, and struggle for survival is apparent. A search for food...family members go missing. A search for shelter...more family disappear. Baby Z and mother give each other comfort.

New friends are made...then left behind. The search is on for the missing...to reconnect.

What really happened...we don't know...can only imagine.

It's THE END WE START FROM. Frightening is the strange new world.

Unique narration. Wish I could rate this one 3.5 Stars...bc I'm still not sure.

Thank you NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,012 reviews1,405 followers
April 24, 2017
I received a copy of this in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Megan Hunter, and the publisher, Picador, for this opportunity.

This post-apocalyptic fiction sees a very-near-future version of Great Britain in a state of veritable panic due to the increasing sea water levels. A mother-to-be is living in terror of her uncertain future. A father-to-be is haunted by claustrophobia in a sinking world. A baby is about to be born, and knows nothing of the predicament he is arriving in to.

Each character was not named and, instead, only graced with an initial to divide them from other characters. This had a two-fold effect on me, as a reader. It made my affinity with the individual characters decrease, and yet heightened the sense of reality about the events taking place. A name denotes an individual, and by taking away the character's individuality away, it could be anyone this book was focusing on. It made their horror and fear my own. It also made them seem more two-dimensional and unreal, and it was hard to separate these two conflicting feelings.

The reasoning behind the events that occur is another of the many things withheld from the reader, along with the lack of character names. This made the book a dually sparse and easy, as well as an intricate and demanding, read.

The sparsity of the text is where the power of it stems. It is unique, in that respect. But this sparsity is also what distanced me from so much of the story. These conflicting feelings haunted both my overall enjoyment of the entire reading and my understanding of every aspect of the plot. It is also the reason for my middle-of-the-road rating, as I am utterly unaware on where my feelings on this should lay.
Profile Image for Marialyce (absltmom, yaya).
1,938 reviews722 followers
November 5, 2017
This was a short novel, a cautionary tale on the condition of earth should the water rise and take over the land. Not only would we lose the land, we would also lose ourselves to drift in a world where we moved from place to place looking for a place where we can be dry.

Into the environment comes a family, a new mother and her husband. The novella is not really so much directed towards disaster as it is a treatise on being a parent. The husband is missing in this story, where all people go by an initial and have no name. The mother needs to keep going, and as she does she bears witness to the cycle of her baby's life. She calls him Z and her life and his go through various places and stages as time and life cycles do. She loves him, he depends on her. She feeds his body, he feeds her soul. She provides him warmth and he provides her solace.

This was a strange tale, one that said more to motherhood than to any disaster facing this planet. Set in England, an island nation, it pointed to the fact that no matter how much things change, a mother will always take care of her child and see to his/her survival the best and only way she knows how.

Read through the courtesy of NetGalley and Grove Atlantic, Grove Press
Profile Image for Dennis.
746 reviews1,429 followers
October 27, 2017
Megan Hunter's The End We Start From is a truly beautiful poetic framework of an eerily possible future that we all should consider. The story starts off with a woman in the hospital about to give labor, nervous about what the news keeps reporting as an impending disaster brewing. Several days later, she has to evacuate with her husband and son to safer grounds. The story vividly portrays the couple seeking refuge, while trying to remain safe and protecting their family. The creepiness factor of this possibly happening is not lost on me here.

The End We Start From can best be described as a bare bones distant cousin to Station Eleven, illuminating a dystopian society beautifully, as the words come across as art. Megan Hunter accurately portrays human emotion in dealing with conflict and natural uprising in times of adversity. This story is relatively short and can be finished in one sitting. If you need a quick read for your daily commute, lunch break, or cardio session; this one could be a contender for you.

Thank you Grove Atlantic/Grove Press for providing me an ARC in exchange for my honest review. It was a pleasure.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,744 reviews4,168 followers
April 22, 2017
Ostensibly a dystopian novel, but actually almost entirely about motherhood. Written in a spare style that has poetic qualities, thus very short; a quick read. I can't imagine a less interesting approach to dystopia, and the story left me cold, but that is a very personal judgement. Just not for me.

I received an advance review copy of The End We Start From from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,113 reviews8,043 followers
April 11, 2021
[4.5 stars]

This was such a surprise! I recently read Hunter’s second novel, The Harpy, and while I appreciated the writing, I didn’t vibe with the story. This one was very different but still had some really great writing. It’s atmospheric and poetic and a bit disjointed. But it captures feelings so well and that’s really what moved me. It wasn’t quite 5 stars for something I can’t put my finger on, but I still really loved this. It’s definitely a book I’d recommend sinking into in one sitting, which is doable since it’s so short and the chapters are written in fragments that move quickly.
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews863 followers
October 3, 2017
The End We Start From is Station Eleven meets Exit West - a literary soft apocalypse refugee story set in a near-future Great Britain. Except, it's a pared down, sort of anemic version of both of those novels. It was well written, but for the most part left me cold.

This novella doesn't use names and doesn't fixate on details - instead it's about humanity, the connections we make, the ways we adapt to change. Although Megan Hunter does an impressive job at delving into these themes in so short a story, there was too much left unsaid for me to be able to really connect with this on an emotional level. London is submerged underwater, the unnamed narrator gives birth to a baby, she and her husband are separated, and I should care, but I don't.

Hunter's prose is worth mentioning as it is undoubtedly this novella's biggest strength. It's poetic and lyrical, incisive and creative... but strong prose isn't enough to elevate this past 3 stars. Bottom line: I finished this book and thought 'what exactly was the point of that?' There just wasn't anything particularly unique or innovative about this story. Reading these 160 pages wasn't an entirely unpleasant way to spend my time, but I can't say it made much of an impression on me. I have a feeling that when I look through the books I read in 2017 at the end of the year, I'm going to see this one and say 'wait, what was that again?'

Thank you to Netgalley, Grove Atlantic, and Megan Hunter for the electronic copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for catherine ♡.
1,153 reviews150 followers
December 21, 2017
Actual Rating: 1.5

Agh. I really thought I would love this. I'm a huge fan of dystopian novels, and I love reading poetic, elegant writing. I wasn't sure how they would work together, but after reading this book - I'm not too sure it works.

There were definitely places where the writing style was beautiful, but overall I think it worked against the story. Because it was so soft and airy, the story lost a lot of its intensity and speed - things that are typically very important to a dystopian universe. In fact, if I hadn't read the blurb that said that this book followed a newborn as London was flooded, I'm not sure I would have known that that was what was happening.

In addition to that, it felt really hard to connect with the characters because they were named only by a single alphabet letter, and sometimes I got confused with who was who. Understandably all of these aspects come together to make a disconnected and jarring writing style that parallels the story's situation, but it was simply a little hard to understand for me.

If you're looking for some really beautiful quotes to write down, then go for The End We Start From. But if you want a true dystopian with harrowing action, look elsewhere.

Profile Image for Marjorie.
543 reviews54 followers
October 24, 2017
A mother gives birth to a baby. However, the parents’ happiness is marred by the floodwaters that are rising all around them. They’re forced to evacuate with the newborn infant. They need to keep moving to find land above the flood levels. The news that is coming to them is not encouraging. Panic has spread and the world is no longer a safe place.

What a contrast – the beauty of the birth of a child and his discoveries of the fascinating world around him against the harsh reality of a planet that may soon be covered in water. This is a hauntingly beautiful novella that I was totally captivated by. Just the author’s brilliant capture of early motherhood is enough to make this one a winner. But the suspense of the ongoing flooding adds such a touch of horror that I was dismayed at the prospect of these lovely people. The author has managed to pack an enormous amount of emotion into such few words. This is an amazing accomplishment and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead from Ms. Hunter.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,160 reviews1,920 followers
November 25, 2018
3.5 stars rounded up
This is a novella which can easily be read in one sitting; sparse would be a good way of describing it. The little paragraphs are rarely more than one or two sentences and they are well spaced out. The novel is dystopian and relates to an environmental disaster in the very near future involving water, lots of it. It illustrates how quickly our comfortable lifestyles and communities can disintegrate. It is narrated by an unnamed and heavily pregnant woman. All the other characters are referred to be initials. Her partner is R and the baby when he arrives, Z. There are some similarities with The Road as the family have to leave their home because of flooding and move to higher ground. The narrator is quite reflective about the situation:
“Home is another word that has lost itself. I try to make it into something, to wrap its sounds around a shape. All I get is the opening of my mouth and its closing, the way my lips press together at the end. Home.”
This is also a reflection on motherhood as much of the interaction is between the narrator and Z:
“This is how his body curls: like a shrimp, like a spring, like a tiny human yet to straighten out “
This is as much a prose poem as a novel and the review in The Independent makes this point:
“This isn’t a novel in which exposition is a problem; it’s more Virginia Woolf does cli-fi, impressions of a scene rather than detailed depiction”
Cli-fi is not a term I was familiar with, but I suspect it won’t be the last time I hear it! I am less sure about the Woolf comparison, although I see the point stylistically:
“After the flood, the fire. I am losing the story. I am forgetting.”
However for me it doesn’t have the depth and solidity of Woolf. There is a sense of movement though as the narrator moves from London and ends up on a remote Scottish island and then back to London again as the waters settle. R disappears on some vague quest about halfway and the focus centres even more on the mother/baby relationship:
“Z is real, with his tiny cat skull and sweet-smelling crap. The news is rushing by. It is easy to ignore.”
We follow Z through his first year, movements, steps, crawls and so on.
Inserted into the text are brief italicized sentences. These are based on various creation myths:
“The first one’s bones were made of branches, his blood of rivers, his eyes of moons, his spirit of fire.”
“The otherworld will be beneath the ocean, forty thousand fathoms below. In that place there will be no pain, nor death, nor mourning.”
Those two were picked at random. I think they are meant to act as counterpoints to the destruction, but they tended to blend into the whole. This was interesting but ultimately the insubstantialness of it meant there was a lack of potency. The film rights have already been sold, so I wonder if the visualization of it will add to the power. Nevertheless it was interesting, especially for the reflections on motherhood rather than the dystopia.
Profile Image for Mevsim Yenice.
Author 4 books965 followers
August 13, 2019
"Sessizliğin onca farklı türü vardır ama anlatmak için yalnızca bir sözcük var. Evdeki sessizlik, gürültü olmayan sessizlikten başka bir şeye, pürüzlü, pütür pütür, tökezlenip geçilen bir karanlığa evrildi."

"Bir çiviye vuruyorum ve çivi tahtanın içine yamuk giriyor. Yeniden vuruyorum. Bu tatmin edici bir şey, seks ya da cinayet gibi."

"R'yi sahilde tek başına, girdap yaparak yükselmiş bir denizin önünde hayal ediyorum. İnsanlar, kayıp bir kişi eğer hala hayattaysa bunu hissedebildiklerini söylüyorlar ve ben de bütün gücümle bunu deniyorum."

Profile Image for Aentee.
136 reviews439 followers
May 29, 2017
This is short fiction yet I struggled to finish it. Never has an apocalypse seem more mundane. Perhaps I am missing the point of the novel, but if this is what literary writing is like, I want no part in it. Erratic, scattered, detached writing. Characters identifiable only via the letters of the alphabet. There are sections where the writing is admittedly beautiful, but not enough to save me from the sense that I just read a whole lot of nothing.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,746 reviews1,197 followers
March 27, 2020
Z opens his eyes a little more every day. I am constantly aware of the complex process of breath: how the heart has to keep beating, to bring oxygen to the lungs in and out. Or something. It seems that at any moment it could stop. Sometimes he sleeps so quietly it seems that he has gone. We mostly lie in R’s old childhood bedroom, now with double bed and Moses basket creaking with Z’s every move. The news rushes past downstairs like a flow of traffic. Even our flat there underwater doesn’t make it real. Z is real with his tiny cat skull and sweet-swelling crap. The news is rushing by. It is easy to ignore. Every morning when I wake up the sheets are wet. I have wet myself from my breasts: I am lying in milk. Z tosses and the wicker stirs. R is already out of bed. If I listen carefully enough I can hear him hammering in the garden. Words float up the stairs like so many childhood letter magnets. Endgame, civilization, catastrophe, humanitarian.

This book takes as its epigraph, a quote from TS Eliot “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is a beginning. The end is where we start from” and uses it as the inspiration for a ruthlessly pared back and fragmentary novella/prose poem, set in a dystopian future where London is submerged by unexpectedly catastrophic sea level rises (the end) just as the unnamed female narrator gives birth (the beginning). This tale is woven through with italicised excerpts from mythological and religious texts around creation/flood and end times.

The book is only around 125 generously spaced pages – the quotes with which I have started and ended my review are around 2% of the entire book and also convey much of my sense of the novel: the use of letter for names; the oblique treatment of the unfolding environmental catastrophe and the sense that it is simply too unreal to take in, and the attempt to convey it by wordlists; by contrast the sense that reality can be grounded in a concentration on the physicality of a baby and of being a mother; the use (with mixed success) of unusual similes; the concentration on the physicality of a baby and of being a mother.

A haunting book - one which succeeds for me as much as an oblique meditation on being a new parent than as a climate change novel.

The idea came from nowhere. For weeks it was not there, and then it was everywhere. It came from the distance, or from sleep, from those nipple head-twist urine-musk times we spend in the dark. Any chance they get, my dreams unfurl in their allotted small space. They are origami, they are Japanese pod hotels. They fit it all in. The idea came as a miniaturized image, a crisp packet in the oven. It is all I need.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,509 reviews188 followers
July 15, 2019
The unnamed narrator describes rising waters due to climate-related upheavals (?) in beautiful, poetic prose in this novella. The narrator’s tone is somewhat remote, with not a lot of clear information conveyed about what is causing the disaster, or where she and her partner are located. This distancing extends to character names; the narrator refers to each person simply by the first letter of their first name.
Sad and terrible things happen repeatedly as the narrator and her partner R keep moving in advance of rising waters? Scared and desperate people? Both, I imagine, but we’re not told explicitly. I found the narrator's pregnancy then birth changed the tone of this story; the text became a little less remote as she described becoming familiar with her son Z’s body and needs, and his effect upon her body. Much else of her surroundings are still described in a sometimes frustratingly cryptic way. But we do get that the primary emotional connection throughout this story is between the narrator and Z, her baby. Babies don’t leave one with much of a choice but to be present for them.
I think I liked this story, even though it was a somewhat challenging read. I loved the way the narrator described the growing bond between herself and her son, as well as the mundane concerns of trying to care for Z when resources were scarce (e.g., having sufficient nappies/diapers), living conditions and safe spaces are tenuous and people could disappear unexpectedly.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,056 reviews
June 25, 2017
Congratulations to Megan Hunter for a well-written first novel. A young woman gives birth to a son as London is submerged by floodwaters and everyone flees. She, her partner, and her son flee north into a dangerous territory to save themselves. The story is centered on the woman bonding with her son under extraordinary conditions. Set in the future, the book ultimately demonstrates renewal and rebirth. The story has much tragedy, yet it didn't evoke emotion from me - I couldn't seem to care about the characters and their situation. I would have liked to see more character development and more detail in the story; however, I can appreciate the abstractness of the human situation under difficult circumstances.

Thanks to Megan Hunter and Grove Atlantic through Netgalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
October 24, 2017
This is a strange book.

It’s about a women, her baby and her husband who wants to survive in a world that ends.
It’s written in a poetical way, so it’s like you’re reading a really long beautiful text or poem.
Profile Image for Ellen Gail.
835 reviews374 followers
September 7, 2017
I...I don't really know what to say? Super weird and confusing.

I've read some weird books in my time. Good weird, bad weird, you name it; deadly sounds, man eating gators, severed bee penises, bones and blood sprouting from the ground, a werebeetle, and some unfortunate life decisions involving mayonnaise. To name a few.

So as a self-named expert on weird, that's what I'm going to choose to call The End We Start From. This shit is WEIRD.

This is a not very dystopian dystopia, but hey, the concept is there. The world is in a crisis. Rapidly rising floodwaters, refugee camps, lack of supplies, panic and looting. And among it all, a woman gives birth to her first child. She and her baby boy Z are separated from her husband R. (Yes, everyone is only referred to by a single initial and it's annoying.)

My chief problem with this book is it's very flat. Emotionally, it doesn't feel any different, no matter if she's on a boat, wishing for more food in the camp, or nursing baby Z. It all feels so grey. The plot doesn't move up and down, doesn't swell or fade. It just IS and that's boring to read.

There were also some very strange words and phrases used. Occasionally there'd be a phrase that would make me think, 'Dang, that's lovely.' But mostly it was just weird phrases like, "words float up the stairs like so many childhood letter magnets," "The crap floats down the plug like tiny beasts." and "from the nipple head-twist urine-musk times...". At one point baby Z is referred to as a "small flesh-pocket."

It just makes no sense to me. I've read plenty of novellas and enjoyed them, (see A House at the Bottom of a Lake, Gator Bait (which also made my list of weird reads), Sour Candy, and The Grownup), but all those managed a wallop of a story in minimal pages. The End We Start From doesn't have a wallop. It just is.

It's an impactless bowl of oatmeal, when what you really crave is flavor, spice, and satisfaction.

*All quote snippets taken from digital review copy*
Thanks to Edelweiss and Grove Atlantic for the DRC
Profile Image for Joseph.
459 reviews118 followers
March 2, 2020

At one level, this beguiling debut novel(la) by Megan Hunter can be enjoyed as a work of science fiction, or even as a Mieville-like piece of "new weird". Its setting is a contemporary London made strange by an inexplicable environmental phenomenon - the waters are rising, swallowing cities and towns and bringing about social mayhem. Right at the onset of the deluge, the narrator gives birth to a son - Z. Days later, mother and child have to head to the North to avoid the advancing waters. What follows is a sort of "Baby's First Album" with a post-apocalyptic twist, the child's perfectly natural struggle for survival mirrored by society's attempt to adapt to a new way of life. The link between the two lies in the recurring water imagery - Z's birth in the very first page is marked, of course, by a "breaking of the waters" ("I am waterless, the pool of myself spreading slowly past my toes") reflecting the ominous "waters" which are threatening the city. The novella is, in a way, a celebration of new motherhood but, thanks to its dystopian backdrop, it eschews sentimentality leaving only a warm, essential humanity.

Going through earlier reviews of this book, I noted that several readers were put off by the spareness of the prose; others were struck by a sense that the premise of the novel was not fully realised. Admittedly, several details are left undefined and the plot (if one can speak of one) could be summarised in a half-page paragraph (in large font...). However, I felt that Hunter was aiming for the pregnant conciseness of poetry, preferring metaphor and allusion to a more typical working-out of characters and storyline. (She is, after all, a published poet). Indeed, I often found myself re-reading certain passages, delighted by a surprising image or turn of phrase.

I also think that there is in the writing a deliberate attempt to reference mythological storytelling, and to make of this tale a sort of universal parable. Thus, although we get to share some of the characters' most intimate moments, they are only identified by a letter (for instance, the narrator's husband is "R", his parents "G" and "N"). We know that the boy is named "Zeb" (which, incidentally, means "wolf", surely no coincidence) but from then on he is referred to as "Z" (last letter of the alphabet - possibly, the end we start from?) The mythical element is also emphasized through strange italicized passages interspersed in the text, which seem to mimic Biblical apocalyptic imagery - just to give a taste:

In these days we shall look up and see the sun roaming across the night and the grass rising up. The people will cry without end, and the moon will sink from view

I read the book in a couple of sittings but I suspect that, like poetry, it merits to be revisited for it to further reveal its mysteries.
Profile Image for Erin Clemence.
1,026 reviews309 followers
November 15, 2017
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free, electronic ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

I am not sure what I just read. For the record, I am not a fan of poetry or short stories (they just aren’t my thing. I am more old school, beginning-middle-end kind of girl who prefers definitive endings) and it is extremely evident that Megan Hunter is a poet, and not a writer.

“The End We Start From” sounds promising. A young family is stranded after (what we can assume) a flood has (what we can assume) destroyed their home. They now must travel with their young son from commune to commune (or something like that) , forging new friendships while watching their son grow. The promise is there but the format leaves a lot to be desired.

The writing is choppy and I understand that it is told that way intentionally, to reinforce to the readers the sporadic nature of the current time in the novel. However, I found it really hard to follow and it left me with more questions than answers. I read the entire novel in two days (it was very short, the choppy writing did provide that at least) and still had no idea what happened, how it happened, what happened afterward, etc. (Isn’t this the idea of a story after all?) The characters were referred to by letters instead of names, which was creative until there is more than one person in a plotline, then it just gets confusing.

This novel was a quick read (as mentioned) and because of this, I was able to read it in (nearly) one sitting. I was able to quickly form bonds with the characters and take an interest in their welfare. However, since I don’t know what happened to them at the end, this also makes me feel a little cheated.

“The End We Start From” by Megan Hunter has incredible promise, and I hope that Hunter produces more novels in the future, as her creativity is very evident in her poetic writing. However, I hope she sticks to a regular novel format (as boring as that may seem), that allows her readers to experience the full novel, and not just snippets.
Profile Image for Mridu  aka Storypals.
499 reviews100 followers
July 21, 2017
I received a copy from Netgalley!
and boy oh boy was I excited for this, blurb amazing. COVER FABULOUS. But I am at a serious loss for words of how to review this book, I really wanted to like it you know. I did!

Read my whole review here -
Profile Image for Jessie.
255 reviews25 followers
June 9, 2020
Beautifully written. The story didn’t really grip me, but this is more to do with my personal taste in genre than with the book. It’s a good book, but it didn’t really speak to me. If you enjoyed the parts in Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, about Offred’s life before the new regime came, then you’ll probably love this. It had a lot of the same vibes and interesting character dynamic. If you’re into distopian books and you enjoy a poetic writing style, you’ll probably love this.
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