The One with the London Moses

Megan Hunter, The End We Start From (2017)

Dystopian novels *normally* put me in a gloomy mood, and that is why I refrain from reading too many of them, although I’m attracted to them like a moth to a broken hurricane lantern. I can’t remember who (in the litblog world) pointed this book to me (please raise your hand!), but I had not understood it was a novella when I requested it from Netgalley, and I’m grateful for this discovery.

It reads fast and easily, but the images stuck with me. It’s very sparse, and very evocative. When the story starts, the narrator’s waters break and she gives birth. We don’t get to know full names or details, but we soon understand that nothing is normal in the world surrounding this birth. London is being flooded, there are refugees, unrest and disaster all around. The rest of the novella follows this mother and her baby for a year, until he finally walks.

The horrors of the catastrophe are muted or only alluded to, because it looks more like a fragmented diary, intercepted with quotes and poetry, than a traditional novel with dialogues and plot. In fact, because everything is about survival, much of what happens is a matter of luck (or unluck), and the main character is often quite passive, not knowing if she should stay or go. As the mother’s main focus is the progress of her baby, it also chronicles the tiny, very normal milestones of an infant.

It might leave some people cold because it is so unemotional (the British stiff upper lip, perhaps?) and provides very little information, where other writers would have waxed lyrical for paragraphs upon paragraphs. For example: “The day they don’t come back from shopping is beautiful.” But I loved this style and found it very effective.

Eventually, this is not a too disturbing or shocking read because we readers are spared the details of the horror compared to the sweetness of the baby details. We are forced to have a distanced reading, not only to guess what is missing from the page, but also to witness that confronted with unnamed horror, the narrator has retreated to her inner self and her baby, to block out the rest. The ending is hopeful and this is why I enjoyed it so much too.

Thanks to the publisher Grove Atlantic and Netgalley for the review copy.

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