Friday, 10 April 2015
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
I put on my anorak, balaclava and mittens, which were kept warming on a nail above the stove. I got [my doll] Phyllis out and together we sat on the edge of the bed, watching the door. I pulled on my shoe and the shingle-bag. ‘Wait here,’ I told her, and I went out into the snow after my father.
The noise of the storm was a tremendous roar, a shriek of fury. I crouched low, my face down and my arm across my eyes. Each breath was an effort…
‘Papa!’ I called again again into the white noise, but my words were taken so quickly, I wasn’t even sure I had said them aloud…. Using the rope to guide me, I circumscribed the snow for a shape, a sign to how that my father had been there. And then I nearly tripped over him. hunched like a rock, with his head and arms tucked underneath, my father was white, snow piling up against the sides of his body. I brushed it off his head.
observations: Peggy is living in a hut in a forest in Germany. She and her father have travelled there from London: he has told her that they are the only people to have survived an apocalyptic storm. The reader knows this is not true: the book has a double timeframe, and we know that after years in the woods she returns (without her father) to her mother and brother in London. But most of the book deals with their time alone together living off the land. At first the father marks the days, but ‘with my father’s final notch, time stopped for us on 20th August 1976’ and so the endless days begin.
It’s a very powerful and well-imagined read: Fuller knows exactly what she is doing and where she is going with the story. The atmosphere before they leave their London home is very well done. Peggy’s parents are having a difficult time. There is a description of them at home that reminded me very strongly of the David Hockney picture of Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, in the Tate: the large open window, the relaxed and handsome husband, her mother in a long skirt and leg-of-mutton sleeves (later she is wearing a kaftan):
The hot, difficult drought summer of 1976 is perfectly summoned up, and although the father’s group of survivalist friends – they would argue with that description, they are ‘retreaters’ – sound completely mad, there most certainly were people around then who thought we needed to prepare for the end times. (They used to hand out leaflets in the street telling you what supplies you needed to stock up with.)
I found the descriptions of life at Die Hutte gripping but hard to take, and the interactions between father and daughter weirdly realistic. My favourite bit came when the father came back to the cabin on Christmas Eve: ‘He stood there smiling, one arm around a tall fir tree, as if he were introducing a rather lanky girlfriend. Disappointment overwhelmed me.’ Peggy ‘wanted a proper present.’ Others will read this book differently, and enjoy the descriptions of nature in this section: but to me, the life they live is extremely unpleasant, and so reading about it is problematic.
Her return to London life is equally convincing and sad. I had formed my own conclusions as to some aspects of the book, and nothing about the final section surprised me.
The book is extremely well-written, and strangely real (despite its unlikely story). It will be very interesting to see what Claire Fuller writes next.
Peggy often refers to her favourite recording of the Railway Children, a great blog favourite. Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, and Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood, dealt with the aftermath of apocalyptic events. The Mr Clark in the Hockney picture is the dress designer Ossie Clark – one of his creations is on the blog here following on from a mention in Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling.
The top image is from Flickr commons – it’s from a serialized children’s story of the 1870s, an adventure in what might be Canadian forests.