A haunting take on modern disaster, this contemporary fable fuses the epic and the intimate, the semicollapse of society alongside the birth of a child.
Hunter’s debut begins with an unnamed narrator in labor with her first baby at an apartment in London. The crisis at hand is ominous and ill-defined: floodwaters, devastating enough to render large swaths of the city uninhabitable, force mass evacuations. Our narrator, her husband, R, and their newborn son, Z, head north. Characters are known by only their first initial, a stylistic choice that’s in line with the novel’s spare prose but reads like a gimmick after a while. The new family must adjust and adapt again and again as they journey ever northward, first to R’s parents’ house in the country, then to a series of government-sponsored refugee camps. Hunter is a poet, and the novel is slim enough to be consumed in a single sitting: short paragraphs and frequent line breaks set off the narrator’s thoughts in declarative stanzas, like aphorisms: “I have read that, when someone knows they are going to die, the world becomes acutely itself.” Occasional italicized passages, which are separate from but complement the main narrative, allude to the book of Genesis, namely the Creation story and the Great Flood. “A dove was sent to see if the water had left the face of the land, but she found no place for her foot.” Parents, especially, will recognize the familial exchanges of domestic life, like the transfer of milk from mother to child, rendered as equally consequential to the loss of home. In this new world, the line between the mundane tasks of everyday life and the struggle to survive ceases to exist.
Prescient in its depiction of climate change–induced catastrophe and timeless in its cleareyed understanding of love, Hunter’s tale gains impact from its plausibility.