The bookshop where I work has monthly promotions. Books of the Month. Just like most major booksellers. What makes these promotions a bit different, however, is that the promoted titles are not selected for us (i.e. paid for…) by publishers but my a team of very talented booksellers at our Head Office. I’m not sure if I can remember what their official job titles are but let’s just call them the Book Wizards because they pick some blooming brilliant books. Last month we had, among other things, the fabulous History of Bees as our Fiction Book of the Month and this promotion has often had me trying fiction, non-fiction, thrillers and children’s books I wouldn’t otherwise have tried. And that is the whole idea – the Book Wizards get to read all the good books so they can tell us which are the very best. This month’s fiction choice is a case in point.
The End We Start From is a slender little book – fewer than 150 pages – but it packs quite a punch. A woman gives birth during an environmental disaster, as her waters break the flood waters are rising all over London, and soon after the child (who she names Z, rather than the name going round the maternity ward – Noah…) is born she and her husband abandon their flat and drive to his parents’ farm. As time goes by the mother bonds with her child and reports on what she hears of a gradual breakdown of society: gradually she and her child move further away from civilization and yet closer and closer to each other. In the end what both survives and gives hope for the future is the love of a mother for her child.
It has been well documented that I love a bit of dystopian fiction and this book certain ticks that box. It also scores highly on ‘environmental issues’ and ‘makes me think’. I also really liked the way the book was written (even though I’m far more of a plot girl than a language geek). The sentences are short, we see it all from the mother’s point of view – the idea of thinking in long, complex paragraphs certainly doesn’t fit with my experience of new mothers (or people living through environmental catastrophe, although that is a little more out of my actual experience) – and characters are only given initials rather than names. I can see that this might feel like an odd device to some readers but I felt it gave the impression that anyone could make a connection with this story. We never learn the mother’s name but her husband, for example, is R. He could be Robert, or Richard, or indeed Raoul, Rashid or Ruairidh. This universality is reflected in short passages throughout the book, taken from creation myths from around the world. The author is a poet – used to putting universal experiences into words – this book is, in many ways, a prose poem to guide us through the end of our world.