What a whirlwind of a novel Our Endless Numbered Days was for me. It took me some time getting into the book, as I was trying to navigate the 8 year old narrator Peggy, changing scenery from a house in London, through cities, villages and woods – until Peggy and her father reached die Hütte. The first third or half of the book reminded me a bit of Hansel and Gretel – only, in this version the father doesn’t leave his kids in the wood but drags his daughter out further and further away from civilizations, to live in a cabin in no mans land. There’s a darkness to this story right from the start, and her father’s looming anger and instability is always on the edge, shaping their existence on the way to die Hütte and the time they live there. Like Hansel and Gretel there is that feeling of darkness and something lurking that is unsettling, and the violent actions contrasted with the beautiful and the quiet, really captivated me.
At first I thought the narration that was supposed to follow an eight year olds mind was a bit too mature, to really feel like such a young child. There were little things that kept pulling me out of the story, as Peggy and her father made their way to die Hütte. I think this was perhaps necessary as a contrast too, to Peggy’s “after” state as she is narrating the story 9 years later and we slowly are filled in as to what has happened during that time period. But I will say the narration was one reason why it took me a while to be invested in the story. Although the writing has beautiful sections right from the start, it was really the scene of the snow storm that sold me completely and made me eager to read more. I somehow feel like Claire Fuller’s writing, or her voice, got stronger as the novel progressed.
As I said the thing that really works isn’t just the beauty in the writing or the actual beauty in setting, forests and animals and picturesque cabins but the ugly and the cold and the many details that show the hardship Peggy goes through and how all of it changes her slowly into Punzel, into a new person that is looking back on the life she lead up to 8 years old as a foggy memory, already dusty with forgetfulness. The hardness of the weather – in the way of wind, rain, snow, darkness, but also the shifting of the seasons, her and her father’s adapting to their new environment and how many mistakes they make until they become acclimated to this new life and new place.
It isn’t just the Hansel and Gretel thing that makes me think of this as a dark modern fairytale. There’s moments where it really feels like magic is part of this world; the great divide, or the weather acting like a person with moods and a mind of its own. Her father grows increasingly unstable and further away from the person that he was, tumbling back and forth between being in the present and being a wreck, wanting to die and having a new project to live for. His constant inner battle and the way they affect Punzel is just, so so enchanting and scary and captivating and just utterly chilling. I can’t at all describe how the darkness of this novel really creeps up on you, first gradually and then really landing on you in the last few pages.
And the end. To be completely honest, even reading the last couple of chapters I was starting to feel that there was no point in getting the “after” story any more than we had already got (by page 250 or so) but then the end was just perfect for this story and made me realize the reason for some earlier parts being included, it was absolutely necessary for the story Fuller wanted to tell. The end literally made me shiver. I’ve cried and laughed and felt so many different emotions while reading before, but this is the first time that a book made me shiver – I think that’s how surprising and unnerving the last bit of this novel was for me.
I just can’t get across all of my thoughts on this. In my head, as I look back on the story, I see everything in colour and I smell wood and snow and feel the cold air bite into my skin and I hear the water of the river thunder by and I feel the dread and the fear and the haze of the characters in this story, and I just can’t make it all come down in words. I can only say I’m now very excited to read Claire Fuller’s novel Swimming Home that’s coming out very soon, and hope to find more wonderful (and dark) stories told with even more precision.