I became a fan of Claire Fuller after reading her second novel Swimming Lessons . Google searching more about the author led to her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, the winner of the 2015 Desmond Elliot Prize. The oxymoron in the title itself attracted me to this debut novel, and soon enough, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of my copy to delve into this book. This book is incomparable to The Swimming Lessons in setting, plot line or even the writing style. Claire Fuller’s quality writing clearly sets her apart from many of her contemporaries. The book has an interesting and weighty theme which the author has handled with great maturity with both expected as well as unexpected plot twists towards the end.
Goodreads Synopsis :
Peggy Hillcoat is eight years old when her survivalist father, James, takes her from their home in London to a remote hut in the woods and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Deep in the wilderness, Peggy and James make a life for themselves. They repair the hut, bathe in water from the river, hunt and gather food in the summers and almost starve in the harsh winters. They mark their days only by the sun and the seasons. When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest and begins a search for its owner, she unwittingly begins to unravel the series of events that brought her to the woods, and in doing so, discovers the strength she needs to go back to the home and to her mother whom she thought she’d lost. After Peggy’s return to civilisation, her mother learns the truth of her escape, of what happened to James on the last night out in the woods, and of the secret that Peggy has carried with her ever since.
The narration of the book is from the point of view of Peggy with chapters alternating between her life in the wild with her father and her life after her return to civilisation. Fuller has accounted for Peggy’s growth and through the style of narration we can easily feel the changes in Peggy. From a timid child missing her mother and the comforts of home to a brave girl finding her place in the wilderness to ultimately a rebellious teenager who wants to break free from the depressing hold of her father, Fuller’s narration presents to us a different Peggy changing with time. Fuller does not explicitly state all the information about a character but slowly makes the readers realise their quirks and madness through various events in her book. Directly stating and making it obvious is definitely not her style. The transition of Peggy’s father from a sane survivalist to a hopeless manic is also understood by reading between the lines. Although not explicitly stated, the complicated relationship between Peggy and her father can also be made out from the book.
The book, albeit an interesting read, slows down slightly at some points. I felt this was mainly because Fuller did not even spare a single word in describing the landscape. This reminded me of the Victorian novels where a number of pages are dedicated to set the mood and to describe the place and the people. Another let down for me were some of the shocking secrets which Fuller reserved till the end to reveal that was slightly predictable albeit no less shocking. Yet, she manages to conclude the book with a bang that will leave us reeling under a revelation. Again, at the risk of repeating myself, nothing is explicitly stated in this book!
Overall, a very good effort by Claire Fuller in her debut novel. The book stands out due to its writing, the complicated theme and its narration style. This book is no pleasant read, the struggles faced by Peggy are unimaginable especially thinking of its futility and the injustice she suffered at the hands of her father are unforgivable. This will enrage you, fill you with despair and frustrate you, yet it is difficult to put down and the climax might shatter you emotionally! Definitely worth a read for people who are not in search of light and pleasurable reading!