My first thought when I picked up this book at the library: it’s so small. (My second thought, upon opening it: it smells amazing. I’m weird – sorry not sorry.) It’s like half the size of a normal book, both in regards to actual physical size and length. But definitely do not let its size fool or dissuade you from reading it – it’s simultaneously sparse and full, and absolutely worth the short time it takes to read.
“The earth will rise up from the deep one day, from the surface of the waves. Every land will be empty, and covered in morning dew.”
If you have ever been interested in trying to read poetry, but are not really sure you’ll “get” it, this is the perfect book for you. It’s got the scarcity of words that characterizes poetry, but without an accompanying paucity of description. It’s follows a plot more than a poetry collection would, but still gives you a more scattered, surreal reading experience. The combination of poetry-prose is something unique to this book, at least for me, and creates a singular atmospheric journey.
Thematically, we follow our narrator as she gives birth to her first child, Z, only days before being forced out of her London home by an unexpected and disastrous environmental crisis: the submergence of pretty much all of London under flood waters. We follow her and her partner, R, as they face all the challenges of trauma, losing friends/family, fighting for food and somewhere to live, life as refugees. Through it all, our narrator also deals with the fears, trials and exuberances of being a new mother – and we see the universality of motherhood, even through the deepest of disasters and the end of the world as we know it. Along the way, we watch everyone just doing their best with what they were handed, are trying to create a safe, “normal” life for themselves and their children out of the wreckage of what came before.
Hunter’s words throughout this small novel are melancholy and expressive, with a staccato flow that defies the normal cadence of language. And I particularly loved how, mixed in with her “story-telling” passages, are interjections of bits and pieces of different cultural and religious creation myths. They are vague enough as to be merely mood setting, but specific enough to be recognizable if you know what to look for – a gorgeous feat of writing. They parallel the events of our main story in a way that adds a beautiful layer and depth. And they complement the overall parable-like feel of this tale of motherhood and survival as representations of the oft-searched for chance to “start over.”
Overall, this short piece packs all the punch of a longer saga. It is poetry of the apocalypse. It is our yearning for second chances, for renewal. And its ebbs and swells will push you along like a tiny ship adrift between giant waves on the sea.
Ok, there were like a million passages I wanted to quote. Like for real, I was marking almost every page and pretty much wanted to re-write the entire story here in my highlights” section. I did my best to pare it down. Enjoy:
“I sleep like a shark, swimming on through the night. Never stopping the movement, quick as fins in the dark, between complete terror and complete devotion.”
“The window is completely black, the darkness total. We are the only people here. The truth: we’ve always felt like this.”
“In that place, honey-sweet fruit will touch your lips with gold. Sunshine will lay you down and bless you, and moonlight will fill your bones.”
“There is no electricity, but there is the old magic – wood and wick and spark, flames of all sizes.”
“This is the place where snow never falls, where there is no thunder or lightening. All days are silent, and covered in a clear light.”
“Night speeds by, and we lose it in lamenting. Here comes the place, the right turn, where they all live untouched by sorrow.”
“At the start, there was no sun and no moon. She came from a hole in the sky, and fell slowly towards the water.”