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REVIEW: Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Our Endless Numbered DaysSome books I can review straight after I finish reading them – whether that’s because they left me flatter than the average pancake or because we clicked from the off and I’ve been left with all of the feels. With others however, I feel that I need a little distance before I can comment. Our Endless Numbered Days was one such book and it’s taken a couple of weeks for me to feel certain enough in my thoughts to be comfortable putting finger to keyboard to review it. 

The premise of the novel is, I have to say, fantastic. Peggy is eight years old when her father takes her to ‘die hütte’, a ramshackle cabin in a remote European forest, and tells her that her mother and the rest of the world are gone. Forced to survive on whatever they can find in the forest, Peggy’s fairy-tale cabin holiday becomes a nightmarish fight for survival. And, as she grows up and starts to discern fairy tales from reality, the veracity of her father’s tale becomes harder  and harder to believe. Blending tropes from mythology and folklore with a taut psychological thriller and a gentle commentary on consumerism, the story is certainly original and the effect is haunting. 

It’s no spoiler to say that Peggy survives her time in the forest. From the outset it is evident that the novel is being told as a recollection by a now seventeen year old Peggy, recently back in London with her mother Ute and Oskar, the nine year old brother she never knew existed. As Peggy, or Punzel as she has come to call herself in the forest, struggles to re-adapt to everyday life, she sifts through her memories of her time in die hütte, leaving the reader to filter out the imagined from the real. It’s a very clever technique but not one that I felt worked as well as it could have, with a number of key points left unresolved at the novel’s close. This may well have been Fuller’s intention but, as a reader, it was immensely frustrating as the truths about the dream-like world of die hütte and the reality of Peggy’s childhood remain blurred, deadening the impact of the ending. I don’t do spoilers in my reviews but there is one key mystery surrounding the entire existence of one character which is left maddeningly unresolved – either outcome has disturbing implications for Peggy/Punzel but the irresolution resulted, for me anyway, in a decreased sense of impact in these final revelations.

My other major issue was with Peggy’s father, James. Although Fuller tries hard to paint a picture of a complex man who clearly suffers from some form of mood disorder, I found it hard to empathise or sympathise with him. He’s just too selfish. Even before the revelation that brings his world crashing down and leads to his decision to take Peggy off to the woods and tell her the world has ending (not exactly A-star parenting), he’s all me, me, me. From making his young daughter carry out practice drills in the fallout shelter to allowing her to skip school and live in the garden for a week, James is one jumbled up mess of bad choices and poor decisions. And one they are on their journey, his alternating fits of rage and crushing bouts of depression endanger Peggy’s life on more than one occasion. Which, for me, made Peggy’s devotion to him seem almost unbelievable. Yes, he’s her Dad. And yes, he is definitely the more laid-back and ‘fun’ parent (Peggy’s mother Ute is, to put it mildly, a bit of a cold fish). But at times it’s really hard to buy into his love for Peggy and I never quite bought their relationship – a bit of an issue as a lot of the plot revolves around the parent/child relationship and the impact of James’ lie on Peggy’s life and world view. 

So does this mean that I don’t think ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ is a good book? Well, no. I’m really glad that I read it. Fuller has packed a lot into this novel – probably a little too much for a comparatively slender 300 pages – and she does a lot of it very well. Her descriptions of Peggy and James’ woodland world are wonderful, filled with all of the senses and creating a dreamlike world whilst retaining the gritty reality of what a life of survival really means (acorn soup and eating lots of squirrel, in case any of you were wondering). I also adored the fairytale allegories. I could wax lyrical about all the ways Peggy’s story mirrors themes of childhood versus adolescence in Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and, of course, Rapunzel but then this review would turn into an essay and we’d have disappeared down tangent alley. Needless to say however, if you dig fairytales then you’ll probably dig ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’. 

All in all, ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ is a book with a lot to offer to a lot of different readers. Fans of books such as ‘Room’ will enjoy another tale of a difficult situation told from a child’s perspective, fairytale fans will enjoy sifting through the symbolism and thriller fans will get a kick out a dark tale of abduction and lies where the main fighting is that which takes place inside the characters heads. And there is plenty to discuss which makes it an ideal choice for book clubs. Personally I didn’t love it. Didn’t hate it either. It’s a pretty good book. Which sounds like damning with faint praise but certainly isn’t intended to be. Fuller is a good writer and I’ll be interested to read her next novel, ‘Swimming Lessons‘, which has just been released. If she can keep the accomplished style whilst tightening her plotting, it should be a damn fine read.

Our Endless Numbered Days‘ by Claire Fuller is published by Penguin Books and is out now in paperback, ebook and on audio from all good retailers. Go make a bookseller happy and buy it from your local independent or high street bookstore – if you need any more incentive, they probably do coffee and cake too. 

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