I have just finished reading this book for my work reading group. Judging a book by its cover, it looked like the sort of novel I might pick up for myself anyway, leisure permitting. It turned out rather murkier than my initial assumption – here’s what I thought of Our Endless Numbered Days.
It is a really, really dark novel about a child who is left in the care of her father, a volatile fantasist and liar who takes her to a remote hut for a ‘holiday’ that lasts some nine years. Peggy grows up believing that she and her father are the only people left alive in the world. To match the dark fairytale of her life, Peggy is also known as Punzel or Rapunzel.
This all sounds unremittingly grim and the book certainly contains horror and misery. Yet there is some real beauty in the writing, and compassion for Peggy as she struggles with near-drowning, near-starvation, and other horrifying situations. Claire Fuller explores how Peggy survives a world where she has no agency and which only contains her unstable father and herself – and, perhaps, a man called Reuben.
Each chapter, each season and year of Peggy’s childhood and adolescence in isolation, each episode of her father’s moods or strangeness, adds layer upon layer of meaning and menace to the book – I don’t quite see why people were shocked by the final few pages of the novel as these themes were all signposted by the writer. We also know very early on in the novel that Peggy gets home to England. So this novel is not compulsive reading because of surprising twists and turns or ‘what happens next?’, but rather because it is a compelling tale of survival, damage and endurance: how does she endure and what is the price paid for survival?
Our Endless Numbered Days is not for the faint-hearted but I found it to be a gripping read and a timeless dark fairytale. I give this novel 4 stars.
‘We’re not going to live by somebody else’s rules of hours and minutes any more,’ he said. ‘When to get up, when to go to church, when to go to work.’
I couldn’t remember my father ever going to church, or even to work.
‘Dates only make us aware how numbered our days are, how much closer to death we are for each one we cross off. From now on, Punzel, we’re going to live by the sun and the seasons.’ He picked me up and spun me around, laughing. ‘Our days will be endless.’