I had the pleasure of hearing Megan Hunter speak at the Cambridge Literary Festival last year, and couldn’t resist the boldly original premise of this book…
As a woman’s waters break, London is drenched by floods and finds itself in the grip of an environmental crisis. As she comes to terms with new motherhood, her family also face a fight for survival.
The title is taken from T.S. Eliot and if this doesn’t tip you off that the author is a poet, the narrative style will. The prose is rich and sparing – it dances lightly along a couple of lines at a time and the characters are referred to only by their initials. Whilst the reader may crave more detail about the violence and anarchy which threaten the safety of mother and baby Z, the blank space on the page speaks volumes, serving only to increase the menace.
“Home is another word that has lost itself,” says the woman. As their support structures disintegrate piece by piece, mother and child drift untethered and itinerant, and the story swims forward from point to point too. Again, the narrative nods at the reader’s questions, but doesn’t answer. The effect is to focus our attention as much on the inner story – the concerns of mother and child, the fluidity of time with a new-born, the ebbing and flowing sense of self, the milestones – as on events unfolding in the outside world. It is what Margaret Atwood refers to as ‘herstory’ versus history. We are confronted with how little we understand of nature – the forces that shape our world and act on our bodies.
Babies, we’re reminded, need very few of the trappings of modern life. It is the intensity with which they take what they need from their mother that can leave us flailing in the water.
As mother and child each find their feet in a new and different world, the narrative carries a message of hope and comfort: that all we can do is embrace the unknown and trust in our deliverance.