Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

I was intrigued by the scenario.

When she was eight years-old Peggy’s father told her that the situation he feared had come to pass. The world had ended and everyone was dead, except for the two of them. They were still there because he was a survivalist, because he been preparing for what had happened for years.

He took her away from their London home to live in die Hütte, a wooden cabin, deep in a remote forest somewhere on continental Europe.

He lied. The world hadn’t ended. Her mother wasn’t dead. The world continued to turn without them.

But they lived in the forest for nine years ….

25020744The story opens in 1985, when Peggy is seventeen years old, and has returned to her old London home, with her mother and the nine year-old brother she hadn’t been there to meet.

She is adapting to the change in her life, and the new knowledge that change has brought her.

She is thinking of the hot summer of 1976  when her father taught her survivalist skills  while her German mother, a celebrated concert pianist, was away on tour.

And she is thinking of those nine years, how they began, how they survived, how things changed, and how they ended.

Her voice is lovely; naïve, confiding and utterly compelling. I was captivated and because of that, and because her perspective was held so perfectly I didn’t worry about all those practical questions about what happened and about how ever it could have happened.

At first Peggy enjoyed the adventure, setting up a  new home, exploring the woodland all around, and finding a new and very different way of living.

Her descriptions were lovely and so very evocative. They drew me right into the story.

I was concerned, by the whole situation, and because as Peggy  described her father I realised that he was obsessive — and dangerously so

When winter came, and snow fell, Peggy and her father were trapped in  die Hütte. and food and water ran desperately short. I feared for them, and because I perceived him with adult understanding and Peggy’s understanding was still childish I found more reasons to be fearful.

Over the years Peggy learned and understood more. She began to question her father’s authority and judgement. And she began to realise that her father’s obsession was turning into madness.

That was why when she saw signs that they weren’t alone, that someone else had survived and was living in the forest, she said nothing to her father and set out alone to try to learn more …..

Claire Fuller has woven together elements of dystopian stories, elements of grown-up  fairy stories, elements of psychological studies, to create a first novel that is so very distinctive.

And there’s more than that.

This is a story underpinned by wonderful understanding of different relationships. First there is the relationship between a husband and wife who have grown apart but stayed together; then there is the relationship between father and daughter that evolves in the most extraordinary circumstances; and finally there is the relationship between mother and daughter that has, somehow, to be rebuilt.

There are interesting touches, there are lovely idiosyncrasies – thinking points would be the right collective noun, I think -in all of the aspects of the story; I could write reams, but if you’ve read the book you know, and if you haven’t you should it’s lovely to find these things and to think about them as the plot and the relationships evolve.

The evolution of the plot and the relationships made this story utterly compelling. As it moved backwards and forwards in time I had to keep turning the pages to find out exactly how Peggy got home.

The answers to my questions – and the end of the book – came quickly. It was unexpected, and yet it was utterly believable. I might have worked it out, I might have spotted the clues, but I didn’t.

I was left with questions about Peggy’s reliability, questions about exactly what happened, and question about what would happen after the final page.

But I was left with no doubt at all that this is a wonderfully accomplished debut novel.