SPOILER: This is part of my Currently Reading series, where I write my thoughts on books while reading them. These posts contain spoilers for the chapters mentioned in the title, so continue reading at your own discretion.
“A little girl is taken to a forest by her father, and he tells her that the world has ended and they’re the only survivors.” That is all I knew about this book before I ordered it and started reading, and it was enough.
The novel uses a frame narrative set in 1985, but the main story takes place, or rather starts, in the summer of 1976. A 17 year old Peggy, the narrator, tells the story of how her father took her to a cabin, isolated from the rest of the world, ans stayed there for nine years.
In 1985, Peggy is living with her mother, Ute, and we don’t know what has become of her father, James, or how she got back home. The dynamic between Peggy and Ute is intense and interesting, and I don’t know how it’s going to evolve (exciting!).
In 1976, an eight year old Peggy likes to spy on her father while he is having heated discussions with his friends, Oliver Hannington being one of them, all of whom believe that the world is going to end very soon (Solar flares? Flood? Russian nuclear attack?), and they need to be prepared. Her father builds a sort of bomb shelter in their basement, stocks it with food and supplies, and trains Peggy to get ready for an eventual Armageddon.
Ute, who use to be a successful (German) pianist before meeting and marrying James, is irritated by his behaviour (acting irresponsibly and childishly) and has grown bitter. After she leaves for Germany on a concert tour, James takes Peggy to live outside. They set up a tent and a fire in their huge garden, they hunt squirrels and rabbits and climb trees and live self-sufficiently for two weeks. One day, Oliver comes by and starts living with them (in the house, not outside).
Peggy misses to weeks of school, and when she goes back for the last days of school and the headmaster asks her about her absence, she tells him that her mother died in a car accident (which I wasn’t sure if it was a lie or not!). The next day, James and Oliver get into a big fight, Oliver leaves, angry, and James takes Peggy on a journey to find the magical place called ‘die Hutte’ (which I’m pretty sure just means ‘the hut’). At the end of chapter 8 they arrive there, so I’m looking forward to seeing what his plan is.
I find it hard to believe, but this is Claire Fuller’s debut novel. It’s extremely well-written and I am so drawn to the story I keep forgetting about meals. It has broken my heart several times already, while simultaneously keeping it light-hearted. Peggy, especially at 8, is so well written, I actually suspect that it was written by Fuller when she was actually 8. Going back and forth between the two narratives only adds to the suspense, and even though we know the outcome of what is clearly a kidnapping, there are still unanswered questions. Not to mention the psychological toll this eight year period has taken on Peggy.
One thing that I really liked was the subtle reference to T.S. Eliot. When the survivalists are discussing the end of the world, Peggy has a great reaction:
“I tell you, it’ll be a natural disaster: tidal wave, flood, earthquake.” […] Standing in the hall, I flinched at the thought, my fists balled, and I held in a whimper.
Another thing I’m suspecting is a sexual relationship between James and Oliver, which maybe went unnoticed by Peggy due to her age, and which flourished and ended while Ute was away on tour. Oliver seems to be a bad influence on James, but he is attracted to him anyway. I look forward to finding out more about Oliver.
PS. Pro-tip: read it while listening to Iron & Wine’s 2004 album “Our Endless Numbered Days”, which of course inspired the title of the book.