Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Review: Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Title: Our Endless Numbered Days
Author: Claire Fuller
Publisher:  Fig Tree
Pages: 304
Genres: Literary Fiction

1976: Peggy Hillcoat is eight. She spends her summer camping with her father, playing her beloved record of The Railway Children and listening to her mother's grand piano, but her pretty life is about to change.

Her survivalist father, who has been stockpiling provisions for the end which is surely coming soon, takes her from London to a cabin in a remote European forest. There he tells Peggy the rest of the world has disappeared.

Her life is reduced to a piano which makes music but no sound, a forest where all that grows is a means of survival. And a tiny wooden hut that is Everything.
A haunting read, Our Endless Numbered Days is a debut novel about oppression and survival. The story centres around Peggy, an eight-year-old girl who is kidnapped by her father and taken to Europe, to live in a hut in a remote German woodland. Peggy’s father is a survivalist; he is passionate about living off the land and off the grid. Peggy initially believes this to be a fun holiday but pretty soon after they arrive, Peggy’s father tells her that the world has ended and they are the only two people left alive. The narrative switches between Peggy as a seventeen-year-old in 1985 where she has returned to her mother in London; and the events that led to her abduction and the years she spent living in the woods with her father.

I would say the main meat of this book is Peggy’s life growing up and surviving in the woods. Peggy is an unreliable narrator as, like the reader, she doesn’t understand why the world has ended or why her father insists that they stay in the hut. There is a lot of tension that is built up very slowly as from the first chapter, we know she eventually returns to her mother and I was just dying to know what happened that allowed her to escape.

There is a dreamlike and fairy-tale quality to the story, it kind of reminded me of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. There was almost a sense of not knowing what was real and what was not. The writing is very beautiful, very lyrical, with rich descriptions of nature. The plot is very slow, very character driven, ultimately concluding in a shocking finale. I felt speechless after I turned the last page.

This is ultimately quite a emotional and dark story and by the end of the book, I found the woodland setting quite stifling and oppressive. Peggy's life was just unimaginable - living on squirrels, wild mushrooms and outgrowing her clothing whilst also not being able to brush her hair or teeth. It was just terrible and went on for years. I felt very sorry for her.

Beautifully written, haunting, and shocking. I would highly recommend this book, especially to readers who enjoyed Burial Rites or The Snow Child as it has a very similar style.

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