- The End We Start From
- Megan Hunter
- Hamish Hamilton
- 144 pages
Something unexpected happened to me as my pregnancy progressed – I started to feel powerful. I think that power had less to do with creating and carrying a life and more to do with something far more literal. I was constantly getting bigger. And though pregnancy certainly comes with its own unique set of anxieties, my usual nagging ones were dulled, replaced with clarity of purpose I hadn't experienced before.
The world around me, in all its messiness, noisiness and hatefulness, became fuzzy and faded from view. Within my own tiny protected sphere, there was a necessity to being present, and more focused than ever. While so many were treating me like something vulnerable – kindly surrendering their seats, opening doors and carrying my things – I felt almost aggressive and hulking, despite my delicate (and increasingly sore and weary) status. Intoxicated by this new feeling of heft and of purpose, there was a protective calm. I realized that for a majority of my life I had been something shrinking – even invisible – and now I was sure, and solid and heavy footed, relishing in growth and momentum.
I don't believe that my experience is in any way unique, nor is it universal, but it certainly is striking. It is also something that I have found exceedingly hard to decipher. That's why it's meaningful that the feeling coincided with my reading of Megan Hunter's The End We Start From, a short, spare, experimental novel about the experience of pregnancy, birth and new motherhood at the end of the world.
This book was the only text able to explain to me that simultaneous expansion and turning inward, this idea of being severed from the world in a way that doesn't necessarily have to be painful or lonely. "Pregnancy is the great adventure, it seems now," Hunter writes. "The great bravery." In fact, this novel managed to articulate a great number of things to me – someone, like the main character, on their way to first-time motherhood – in a way that my growing pile of newly acquired baby books and instructional manuals couldn't.
While London is threatened by environmental catastrophe, The End We Start From's protagonist gives birth to her first child. She names him Z, and is immediately consumed by the deep bond they share. While the floodwaters rise, and the world collapses in around them, the pair abandon what was once safe and secure, forming new connections, submerged in the precious intimacy of their existence together. Even in the midst of such unimaginable chaos, where survival is precarious and violence feels inevitable, the tenderness they share is the primary focus.
"Most past things are ridiculous now," Hunter writes of their new reality, a sentiment that feels as true of motherhood as it does of natural disaster. "Your baby may well be sleeping through the night, the book said, at three months, and six months, and nine months. Sleeping through the night is something no one does anymore."
Like any infant, Z is growing and exploring his surroundings. He is unaware of what is happening in the headlines. Things become as simple and straightforward as feedings, a new tooth, or a first step. It is a dire, uncertain time, yet his wonder and curiosity will not abate, nor will his mother's devotion to and infatuation with his progress. He is her everything in the face of catastrophic circumstances – a comforting, closed dynamic of two.
"The earth was bare, and barren, and no trees grew, and no flowers, and all was still," and yet Z is still teething, or is curious about the tiniest things in the rubble of life before his birth. And though all of this may be a very obvious metaphor for "life goes on," it remains deeply affecting.
Fundamentally, The End We Start From is about what is powerful in a time of vulnerability. Its hyper-focus on not only day-to-day survival, but the vital capacity for joy, love and comfort to thrive in a world that is falling apart is beautiful, poetic and enthralling. Environmental and economic disaster somehow feels like mere background to this narrative, and actually becomes unimportant, the reader increasingly unclear on the apocalypse at hand. A sophisticated, extreme and timely articulation of how the world can fall away via intense feelings of love and the bonds of family, this book emphasizes how those connections can offer salvation when everything feels hopeless.
Stacey May Fowles is the author of the novel Infidelity and Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me