our endless numbered days
by Claire Fuller
I don’t like unreliable narrators. I didn’t realize, at first, that Peggy was one. Even though she mentions at the start of the book that a doctor said she had Korsakoff’s syndrome – meaning malnutrition has messed with her memories – I assumed that it was just because her experiences were so unbelievable that the doctor thought she’d made things up. I also don’t like unreliable narrators because the author obviously knows what truly happened. Leaving the reader in the dark about it seems rude.
Peggy’s narration does seem childlike, often. While at the beginning of the book, that can be excused because she is eight years old, by the end she is seventeen, yet still talking about things with a child’s understanding. I thought that was the effect of Korsakoff’s syndrome, not that she was entirely making some things up.
In our endless numbered days, Peggy is effectively kidnapped by her father when she is eight, and taken to some place deep in the German forest. She spends the next nine years alone in the forest with him, trapping squirrels, gathering roots and berries, and growing simple crops in a small vegetable patch. He tells her, repeatedly, making her repeat it back to him, that the rest of the world was destroyed in a massive storm. They are the last two people alive in their small, sheltered valley. She doesn’t question it until she sees a man in their forest, and that eventually leads her to find civilization again. The book is told in two timelines, flashing back and forth from her memories of her time in the forest, and the present where she’s attempting to re-acclimate to London.
I’m not really sure what to believe; Peggy’s memory or what her mother thinks happened. There are just enough oddities to make either story plausible. I think I prefer Peggy’s version. But that’s the trouble with unreliable narrators; there’s no way to actually know. I don’t like ending a book frustrated. Books should make you feel things, yes, but frustration is an odd emotion to aim for.
This book is odd.
From the cover of our endless numbered days:
Peggy Hillcoat is eight years old when her survivalist father, James, takes her from their home in London to a remote hut in the woods and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Deep in the wilderness, Peggy and James make a life for themselves. They repair the hut, bathe in water from the river, hunt and gather food in the summers, and almost starve in the harsh winters. They mark their days only by the sun and the seasons.
When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest and begins a search for their owner, she unwittingly unravels the series of events that brought her to the woods and, in doing so, discovers the strength she needs to go back to the home and mother she thought she’d lost.
After Peggy’s return to civilization, her mother begins to learn the truth of her escape, of what happened to James on the last night out in the woods, and of the secret that Peggy has carried with her ever since.