“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.”
The story begins on the brink between the ending of one world and the beginning of another.While a woman gives birth to a child an environmental cataclysm leaves London flooded. Rumours swill around the cocoon of her hospital bed that much of the city, including her flat with its newly decorated nursery, has been left underwater. This strange and frightening reality informs the physical and emotional landscape of this strange and beautiful tale and describes the waterlogged world the characters must navigate if they are to survive.
Throughout the story, the sense of immersion in a world made fragmented and disorientating becomes a beautifully wrought extended metaphor for the transforming and transfiguring nature of birth and motherhood. As the story continues, the city and it’s inhabitants begin to emerge, through the pages, as if from some amniotic sac and the reader is left to reflect how easily collective constructs of reality can be dismantled by change.
Prophetic statements as if quoted from ancient, sacred text are interspersed throughout and they add a mythological gravity to the story taking the reader out of the realm of ordinary time and space.
The writing style is exquisitely poetic yet sparse of superfluous detail. As is necessary in any emergency situation, only the barest essentials are required and this briefly sketched but well defined structure maintains the strong momentum of the plot. Indeed, I found the stripped down, starkness of the text created a sense of immediacy and intimacy which engaged me from beginning to end, or perhaps end to beginning in this case.
The mother’s hope that she might salvage a somewhat normal childhood for her son along with the vivid descriptions of the child as he grows and changes, the wordless disappointment and rejection in her relationship and the lifesaving comradeship between her and another new mother named O, create relatable characters. My only criticism is that these relationships could have been more fully explored as I loved the humanity they brought to the story.
The metaphor of new parenthood is beautifully echoed throughout, its internal conflicts reflecting the disarray and confusions of the external world.
I found it interesting to note that when the dire and desperate nature of their situation becomes fully apparent the male partner begins to finds reason to distance himself from his family. When he eventually leaves it is done under the premise that he is seeking a way for them to survive.
Although the story is set around a cataclysmic event there is an intentional lack of hysteria and sentimentalism in the telling. The juxtaposition between the quietly recorded accounts of daily existence, and the overarching theme of survival and integration into a re-imagined world creates a kind of hyper-realism which makes the story scarily believable.
The End We Start From is available to purchase here.