Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
Published in 2015 by Fig Tree
My copy: library
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.
I was intrigued by the premise of the book, and had heard many good things about it, so was looking forward to reading it. From the very start, we know that Peggy survives her ordeal in the woods, as she narrates the first chapter as a 17-year-old. But despite this knowledge, I found the book really tense, and I was desperate to know what would happen and how the story would play out – and how events transpired so that Peggy did end up back home.
Before starting this novel, I was concerned that with the bulk of the action revolving around just two characters living in the middle of nowhere, the book may become boring at times. And in some ways this was the case for me. I did find that the sections focusing on everyday life in the little hut (die hutte) where Peggy’s father has taken Peggy focused too much on the natural stuff and perhaps not enough on the people. I really wanted more on what made Peggy’s dad tick, and I longed for a bit more dialogue between the two, and a bit less about twigs and ferns. I also found myself preferring the short sections set in the present day that were interspersed throughout the book – it was a great opportunity to find out more about Peggy’s experiences, as well as her mother and the younger brother she never knew existed. But again these sections were very short. I felt that there were quite lengthy sections in the woods that you could skip over without missing out on much, while the other sections left me wanting more.
I thought the twist at the end of the novel was shocking and is one I won’t forget, and I thought this revelation was handled well and did make for a good conclusion to the book.
I did really like this book in many ways – it was quite unique and a real page-turner, and there was never a point where I didn’t want to read on. I thought the idea was brilliant – but I did think the execution was flawed at times and I actually wanted a lot more from the novel, with much more about the characters and less about the outdoorsy stuff (which while important to the novel, seemed to take over the characters at times).
Overall I would recommend this as something quite different to read, with a strong ending, and I would read more from Fuller on the basis of this, her debut novel.