“Marky says that Dad thought the world was going to end. He says Dad was crazy and ran away to join a cult in the woods. But the world didn’t end, did it?”
Eight year old Peggy Hillcoat’s mother is an acclaimed pianist and her father is a member of the North London Retreaters. She is used to meetings held in the house where bearded men discuss strategies for survival. Yet that summer, survival is to become her life. She is taken away to live in die Hütte, a cabin hidden away in a remote land. She is told the world has ended and everyone else is dead.
Saplings sprouted unchecked against the walls, so it appeared as if die Hütte, ashamed of its dishevelled appearance, was trying, and failing, to hide behind them.
Beautifully written, this tale does not glamourize living as a survivalist. Young Peggy may enjoy living outside in the garden at home but when she is wrenched away from her life into a remote area of Germany, it’s no longer a game. The winters are harsh, made worse with the lack of food. They spend weeks curing squirrel meat and drying mushrooms, only to still find themselves starving and desperate for spring. Even when food is plentiful, it’s limited in variety.
Set in the late 70s to 1985, it’s a time when people could get lost. Today, modern communications means it would be hard to truly vanish, even harder to trick a child into believing the world was gone. It was also around the peak of the survivalist movement, with groups worried about socio-economic collapse or the threat of nuclear war. These were the people building fallout shelters in their gardens, or moving to remote locations which would be both safer and provide sustenance.
Dates only make us aware of how numbered our days are, how much closer to death we are for each one we cross off.
The difference in Our Many Numbered Days, is the fact that the end of the world hasn’t happened. Yet Peggy believes her and her dad are the only two people left in the world. From her point of view, the apocalypse has happened. At the start of the story, it’s 1985 and Peggy has returned home. We know she survives (although generally a given with first-person narration) and it is never hidden from the reader that her dad lied. Although never explored, I did get the idea that her dad was suffering from bipolar disorder.
She didn’t understand that because there was so much choice, I chose to do nothing.
Fairly early on, Peggy tells the reader she is suffering from Korsakoff’s syndrome, caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency. This is a huge to clue to her reliability as a narrator, or lack of it, although one I think many would miss (though not if you’ve been watching lots of House lately, like me). I did work out what was going on sooner rather than later because of this, however it’s not the only hint. I think this condition can also explain a lot of her behaviour towards the end, where you might think a rational person would cotton on.
Something small that I particularly liked is Ute’s dialogue. Although she has lived in London for many years and speaks excellent English, it’s not her mother tongue. Her dialogue reflects that in little slip ups and off wordings, but not so much to caricaturise her. Actually there’s lots of excellent elements to this story, including the Rapunzel connection which took me a while to realise, depite Peggy taking on her name.
Our Endless Numbered Days is published by Penguin and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 26th February 2015. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
Also reviewed @ Random Things Through My Letterbox
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.