"Claire Fuller says she loves fairy tales, and there is something of Hansel and Gretel in this story."
Claire Fuller says she loves fairy tales, and there is something of Hansel and Gretel in this story. Her descriptions of the natural environment James and Peggy inhabit are quite magical. Together they forage for mushrooms and roots, kill squirrels to eat, and tend a small vegetable garden.
It’s the good life at first. But survival inevitably becomes increasingly difficult, and they find themselves having to fight against nature. Strongly present is a sense of gathering darkness. Peggy is increasingly frightened of the empty, brooding woods. Meanwhile her father’s mental instability, always obvious to us, becomes increasingly menacing and disturbing.
The story is told through Peggy’s voice and it is easy to imagine how the innocence of a little girl and her unquestioning belief in her father conspire to keep her younger than she really is. But over the nine years they live in total isolation, she obviously matures sexually. This is subtly alluded to; there are no heavy-handed hints, as there no direct references to James’s obviously growing madness.
Fuller’s writing is always delicate, but the reader can see all the signs.
Even so, the end of her story is truly shocking, and totally unexpected. Peggy eventually finds her way back to her mother in London, but what actually happened when she left Die Hutte remains a compete mystery until the final few pages.
This is a dark and gripping family drama.
"This is a rare and exceptional novel – an astonishingly accomplished debut."
This is a rare and exceptional novel – an astonishingly accomplished debut. Much of the story is in flashback. It begins in 1985, but soon spools back to 1976. Peggy is eight years old and lives in north London with her mother (Ute), a world-famous concert pianist, and her father James.
James is a survivalist, as so many earnest and introverted men were in the ’70s (and still are in the USA). He believes in the imminent destruction of the planet in a nuclear holocaust. He and a group of like-minded friends build fallout shelters in their basements and share information about surviving in the wild. The relationship between Ute and James is strained, for reasons we do not discover until the end of the book.
It’s a beautifully-written story, and begins, as I say, in 1985. Therefore we know that Peggy – now 17 – is living with her mother in London. And yet we learn that her father abducted Peggy back in 1976, and took her across Europe to live in a cabin hidden deep in a massive German forest. He calls their shack ‘Die Hutte’ (The Hut) and once there tells Peggy that her mother is dead. Not only that, but the entire world has been destroyed.
‘On the other side there is only emptiness, an awful place that has eaten everything except our own little kingdom,’ James tells her.
Peggy, being only eight, has no reason to disbelieve him. And she adores her father. So for the next nine years Peggy and James live in the isolated hut, seeing no-one and surviving on what they can scavenge from the woods that surround them.
Here are a selection of the reviews for Our Endless Numbered Days
"Straightaway I was intrigued to find out where this novel was heading… Fuller evokes the natural world’s beauty and brutality."
"Fuller handles the tension masterfully in this grown-up thriller of a fairytale, full of clues, questions and intrigue."
"Bewitching…a rivetingly dark tale…spellbinding."