P D Dawson
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (Book Review)
“My father was fond of saying 'If you own too many possessions sooner or later they start owning you.”
There is a fine line between love and hate, between friendship and family, between violence and love, between survival and living. Eight-year-old Peggy Hillcoat is an ordinary girl, albeit with a dead mother, a concert pianist as a surrogate mother, and a survival enthusiast for a father. So yes, ordinary in the reality of the modern day sense, but perhaps a little peculiar back in the London of the 70s in which the book is mainly set. But things turn less ordinary as her father’s obsession for survival turns from playfulness into reality. Peggy is taken against her will, or at least without her consent and knowledge, on a journey into the German wilderness for what she believes will be an adventurous, yet finite holiday. But she soon finds that her father has taken her on a holiday without end and that she and he must survive off the land surrounding a dilapidated old hut that they come to call die Hütte: which means, the hut, in translation.
Die Hütte is in a desperate condition and her father restores it so thoroughly that she knows they’ll be staying for more than a few weeks. She misses all the people and the comforts of home, but her father regularly tells her that die Hütte is her new home and that they won’t be going back to London. He manages to keep her anger subdued by telling her that something bad has happened to the world and that they are the only two survivors. This is of course hard for anyone to believe, and I wondered if Peggy ever fully believed it, yet I also knew she was young and naïve enough in the beginning to have believed anything.
Periodically the story flips back and forth between London 1985, which is the books present, and to die Hütte over the course of nine years in the wilderness. The drawback of this flipping back and forth in time method meant that certain plot lines were revealed early on, such as the reader being made aware that Peggy does eventually survive her extreme ordeal in the wilderness and escape from her father and go back to London, but luckily Fuller doesn’t reveal everything at once.
It’s certainly clear from the first few pages alone, that Fuller’s voice is strong, original, impactful and satisfying. She handles character very well too, for the internal meanderings of Peggy’s character are strong, astute and endlessly believable. The wilderness is also very lovingly described. She describes with aplomb the first sights of spring and with wonderful contrast and a clear palette, the painful icy white desolation of winter.
To summarise one could say that this story, though clearly revolving around the actions of a selfish, love-scorned father, can just as easily play as an allegory to the quiet and subtle violence of life itself and the pitfalls that mark every step of the way.