This book is Claire Fuller's first; she is British and I learned of her through her twitter feed (can't remember how I began following it). It will be available as a print book in the US on March 17, but I bought the kindle book last week so I could read it while traveling to Iowa. And what a great way to endure travel by air it was.
It is the gripping story of an 8-year-old girl taken by her survivalist father from London to the wilds of Germany while her mother is away performing as a renown concert pianist. The chapters telling of the 9 years of living a completely isolated existence are interspersed with chapters dated 1985 when she has been reunited with her mother. Her father told her they were the only two people still alive; that the rest of the world had been destroyed. The starvation diet, lack of basic sanitation, and isolation wrecked her growing body and mind, so that she looks 3 years younger than her 17 years and cannot reliable tell what happened to her.
While it is clear from the beginning that her father is monstrous, they do have their moments. Just after her mother left, the two of the began living in a tent in the yard (or as they say, garden) which backs onto a graveyard. From a tree overlooking the cemetery, they looked down on it.
The cemetery was closed to the public–lack of council funds had locked its gates the year before. We were alone with the foxes and the owls; no visitors or mourners came, so we invented them. We pointed out a tourist in a Hawaiian shirt with his loud wife.
"Oh gee," said my father in an American falsetto, "look at that angel, isn't she just the cutest thing!"
Once, we swung our legs above an imaginary burial.
"Shh, the widow's coming," whispered my father. "She's blowing her nose on a lace handkerchief. How tragic to have lost her husband so young."
"But just behind her are the evil twins," I joined in, "wearing identical black dresses."
"And there's the despicable nephew–the one with egg in his mustache. All he wants is his uncle's money." My father rubbed his hands together.
"The widow's throwing a flower onto the coffin."
"A forget-me-not," my father added. "The uncle is creeping up behind her–watch out! She's going to fall into the grave!" He grabbed me around the waist and pretended to tip me off the branch. I squealed, my voice ringing amonst the stone mausoleums and tombs surrounding us.
This is one of the few light-hearted moments in an intense and riveting book. There's something I love about stories of survival when catching a squirrel to eat means it a good day. Interspersing the chapters about Peggy in 1985 (called Punzel for Rapunzel by her father) shows her gradually beginning to understand what happened, though at the end it becomes clear that her horrific experience has made her unable to know the full truth. I appreciate having enough clues throughout so that the final revelation is believable.
Claire Fuller, Our Endless Numbered Days, Tin House Books, 382 pages (I read the kindle version).