Our Endless Numbered Days
by Claire Fuller
WINNER OF THE DESMOND ELLIOTT PRIZE 2015
‘Fuller handles the tension masterfully in this grown-up thriller of a fairytale, full of clues, questions and intrigue.’ – The Times
‘Extraordinary…From the opening sentence it is gripping’ – Sunday Times
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.
Reviews for “Our Endless Numbered Days” baffle me. Full of compliments and phrases such as “I couldn’t stop thinking about it”, I honestly feel like I have read a different book.
Following the life of 8 year old Peggy Hillcoat, this story is about survival. For reasons unknown at first, Peggy’s British father decides to pack in his modern day life and takes his daughter to live in a cabin in the woods in Germany. Presumed missing and dead by her family and friends, Peggy, nicknamed Punzel, is convinced by her father that the rest of the world, including her German mother, Ute, has been destroyed. Having watched a few TV shows and films with a plot along these lines, I was interested and engaged in the story at first, but somewhere along the way Fuller lost me.
I felt little connection to naive Peggy and quite honestly her father didn’t come across as being that awful, despite what we are later led to believe. The style of writing was one of the main reasons for this. We never get to know what Peggy is feeling or what she is thinking, we simply hear what she can see and what she observes. Initially filled with lots of descriptive language of the forest, the hut, the trees and survivalism, we learn how difficult it is to cope in such a situation, however as the relentless chapters go on and on, this becomes somewhat tedious. It felt as though Fuller was skirting around the more difficult topics – a girl going through adolescence is not smooth sailing at the best of times, let alone being trapped with only your father and childhood doll for company! I think I’d have enjoyed this book more if it contained some of the gritty truth which I truly imagine would have really happened in this situation – something to shock me!
Without revealing too much, the fact that the ending surprised people also shocked me. I suspect that whether you knew this was coming or not would have a great impact on your opinion of this book. Disappointingly, I had worked out the ‘twist’ at quite an early stage and therefore was not surprised in the slightest. I assumed we already knew that information, did it need explaining? The ending felt unrealistic, even the characters had no emotional reaction. It also felt very convenient at points. How did the police suddenly put all the pieces together and uncover what they did given the little information they were provided?
On top of all of this is the title, “Our Endless Numbered Days”. This title does not seem fitting for this book. At no point did the author portray the days as being endless and we know it has an ending as the book jumps back and forth between present and past. There was a strict routine to follow and no mention of daydreaming or wishing the time in the woods was over. The days certainly weren’t numbered either, in fact Peggy’s father makes the decision to stop counting days quite early on. A strange choice by Fuller and I would be interested in hearing her justification for this title.
“Each morning since we had arrived, my father had cut notches in die Hutte’s door frame, but when it got to sixteen he decided to stop.”
Overall rating: An interesting premise with some engaging chapters, yet this story dragged and became somewhat unrealistic towards the end. I needed more so it’s 2 stars for Claire Fuller‘s “Our Endless Numbered Days”.