1976: Peggy Hillcoat is eight. She spends her summer camping with her father, playing her beloved record of The Railway Children and listening to her mother’s grand piano, but her pretty life is about to change.
Her survivalist father, who has been stockpiling provisions for the end which is surely coming soon, takes her from London to a cabin in a remote European forest. There he tells Peggy the rest of the world has disappeared.
Her life is reduced to a piano which makes music but no sound, a forest where all that grows is a means of survival. And a tiny wooden hut that is Everything.
I’ve been really good with my reading so far this year – in between the lighter reading I always enjoy (and, let’s face it, we all need a little lightness in our lives at times) I’ve been slotting in some recommended reads, books mentioned as “must reads” in various places, however far outside my comfort zone they might appear. So far, none of them have disappointed in any way – and I particularly enjoyed Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, an exceptionally strong and memorable first novel, published on 26 February by Penguin/Fig Tree.
Essentially, the story is one of appalling cruelty – Peggy’s survivalist father tears her away from her comfortable home life, tells her that those she loves are dead and that the rest of the world has been destroyed, and they survive together in an isolated and barely habitable cabin for the next nine years. However, it is also a novel of the most exceptional beauty – some of the descriptions are so vivid that you feel them with all your senses, and the author’s facility with the written word is quite breathtaking. Peggy’s voice is quite perfectly captured, and adds to the novel’s strength – at times she’s very much a little girl, exploring her new life and making new discoveries, at other times her adult take on things takes you by surprise. There are images that will stay with me for ever – her father’s making of a silent piano, his lavishing immense care on its construction, enabling Peggy to perfect the playing of the piece of music that brought him together with his concert pianist wife, was exceptionally moving. His descent into madness is well handled – Peggy’s is handled more subtly, leaving a really blurred sense of reality and imagination.
There are those of you who will be thinking “oh no, this one’s not for me” – but I have to say that if you don’t try it you’ll be missing an immense and memorable treat and experience. I don’t think I’ve said recently “this is one of my books of the year”, but I’m going to about this one. I won’t say you’ll enjoy it – that’s the wrong word somehow – but if you’d like to read something very different that will truly move you, and remain vivid in your memory long after you’ve finished, do try this one. Claire Fuller is a truly exceptional writer, and this book is quite unforgettable.
My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.
Claire Fuller trained as a sculptor before working in marketing for many years. In 2013 she completed an MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester, and wrote her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, published in February 2015 by Penguin/Fig Tree. Follow Claire on Twitter, or do have a look at her website to find out more about her, her art and her writing.