A young couple, the woman is pregnant, only a couple of weeks before the due day for her baby. London is threatened by a flood, people are being evacuated and the couple is affected by the environmental crisis, too. But then the relief, they can stay in their home. However, after the birth of Baby Z, they need to leave their home and move in with the husband’s parents. The crisis aggravates, first the grandmother, then the grandfather dies, they run out of food, then they have to leave and find shelter in a refugee camp. As they move from one place to the next, they are separated, not knowing if they will ever see each other again. Baby Z however, is discovering the world, making his first movements, first steps and saying his first words.
The novel is striking because of Megan Hunter’s rather plain style of writing. Short sentences coupled in short paragraphs. The characters do not have names, only the first letter of their Christian name is given. This equals the shortage by which they are increasingly affected and it intensifies the feeling of hardship and stress. You can feel the reduction to the very necessary in each sentence. The paratactic style keeps you informed, but you do not smoothly float through the novel. I have not often read novels in which the style equally thus perfectly the story. And Megan Hunter has a way of putting action into words which makes you stumble quite often, for instance: “The day they don’t come back from shopping is beautiful.” (Po. 88) How can you ever reduce such a major event in a character’s life in such a sentence ending with an optimistic and promising adjective like “beautiful”?
The young mother is in the centre of the novel. First, we meet her with the well-known fears which all primipara share. But her fears are quickly overshadowed by the crisis which threatens their lives and the deaths of her parents-in-law. It is interesting to see how the style of writing expresses her emotions rather than functions as means for a description of how she perceives her situation.
The opposing developments of, on the one hand, the environmental crisis and on the other the development of Baby Z is masterly designed by the author. The antithesis in the title also picks up this idea. The life they lead before is gone. Your position in your job and in society, your role or roles in life – everything is submerged and questioned, now, all of the survivors have to start anew. The way the characters cope with the situation is also interestingly and convincingly depicted: some can manage, they are true survivors, other try to break out and run away from the situation.
All in all, a short novel which is striking due to the style it is written in.