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One From the Archive: ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ by Claire Fuller ****

Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days was purchased with some of my Christmas book vouchers, and was the eighth entry for my Read My Own Books project.  I chose to purchase the novel for two reasons – firstly, I had heard so many good things about it, and secondly, the initial sentence of the blurb captivated my attention entirely: ‘Peggy is eight years old when her father takes her to live in a cabin in a remote European forest’.  I adore books which feature child narrators or protagonists, who are wrenched from their comfort zones and have to find a way to cope with their new and unfamiliar surroundings.  I was half-expecting a dark, modern fairytale retelling to spiral from the pages.

Our Endless Numbered Days was the winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2015, and is also part of the Waterstones book club.  The novel has been so well reviewed.  The Sunday Express call it ‘Bewitching.  A riveting, dark tale, full of wonders, suspense and revelation, light and shadow’, and Esther Freud believes it to be ‘Utterly gripping, hypnotic.  I tore through it’.

Peggy is our first person narrator for the entirety, telling her story from a position of retrospective, a technique which allows her past to feel just as vivid as her present.  Her father, James Hillcoat, is part of the North London Retreaters group, which prepares for imminent disaster, and her mother, Ute, is a world-class pianist: ‘No one ever described Ute as beautiful – they used words like striking, arresting, singular.  But because she was a woman to be reckoned with the men composed themselves’.  Peggy’s parents came together through a turmoil of sorts: ‘For the public and critics, her relationship with James Hillcoat was a scandal.  Ute was at the height of her career and she gave it all up for the love of a seventeen-year-old boy.  They married the next year, as soon as it was legal’.  9780241003947Her father’s best friend, Oliver, is frank about his beliefs, telling him: ‘You know what the trouble is with you, James?  You’re so damn British.  And the rest of you – you’re all living in the dark ages, hiding in your cellars, driving off to the country like you’re going on a fucking Sunday picnic.  You still call yourselves Retreaters; the world’s moving on without you.  You haven’t even figured out that you’re survivalists’.

In 1976, whilst her mother is on a tour of her native Germany, Peggy’s father, under a mysterious cloud of anger, takes her to live in a forest, in a dilapidated structure called ‘die Hutte’, far away from civilisation, and a world away from the life she knows.  James tells her that her mother has died, and that is the reason why they are unable to return to their North London suburb.  The reality of Peggy’s situation really hits home with the position of retrospect which she adopts: ‘I had no idea that this wind-worn woman, creased and bag-eyed, standing outside her barn with her cow on a rope, would be the last person I would meet from the real world for another nine years.  Perhaps if I had known, I would have clung to the folds of her skirt, hooked my fingers over the waistband of her apron and touched my knees around one of her stout legs’.

From the start, Fuller’s writing is quite lovely in places; evidence of her Creative Writing MA, it seems: ‘And I thought that maybe it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  Knowing that the sun had shone, and the piano must have been played, and people had lived and breathed whilst I had been gone, helped steady me’.  The entire work is filled with interesting and intriguing details, which often add a sense of mystery to the whole as the plot unfolds: ‘The summer the photograph was taken, my father recast our cellar as a fallout shelter’ proclaims the first sentence of the second chapter, for instance.

Peggy is a lovely character, whom one cannot help but warm to.  Her childish observations and ways of trying to take life by surprise are endearing: ‘I liked to wake without moving my body to see if I could catch myself in that empty place between sleeping and walking, just as I became conscious of the world and the position of my body’.  She is made to grow up at the age of eight, little shocks coming at pivotal points in her journey to attaining adult levels of understanding: ‘As I followed behind him the diamond of blue canvas [from what used to be their tent] mocked me, the awful knowledge staring me in the face whilst I climbed that we wouldn’t be going home’.

The spacing of the plot points ensures that the reader’s interest in Peggy’s tale is sustained throughout.  Our Endless Numbered Days put me in mind of Frances Greenslade’s wonderful Shelter and Claire King’s charming The Night Rainbow from the very beginning.  The novel is engaging, and the tension builds quite marvellously.  Fuller’s writing is taut and emotionally charged, and Peggy is a believable narrator who lingers in the mind for a long while after the final page has been read.

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Two Favourite Contemporary Novels: ‘Swimming Lessons’ and ‘The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty’

I have linked my relatively short reviews of Claire Fuller’s Swimming Lessons (2016) and Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (2015) for two reasons – firstly, I adored them both, and secondly, there is a very thin and tenuous thematic thread which links the two.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller *****
“Gil’s wife, Ingrid has been missing, presumed drowned, for twelve years. A possible sighting brings their children, Nan and Flora, home. Together they begin to confront the mystery of their mother. Is Ingrid dead? Or did she leave? And do the letters hidden within Gil’s books hold the answer to the truth behind his marriage, a truth hidden from everyone including his own children?”
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I very much enjoyed Fuller’s first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, and was very much looking forward to her second effort, Swimming Lessons.  I am pleased to report that I enjoyed it even more than her debut.  The plot very much appealed to me, and it was compelling from the outset.

Ingrid’s voice is rich and distinct; she has such agency.  The inclusion of her letters allows her to be present within the story despite not being visible in the physical world.  Each of the backstories which Fuller has created for her characters are just as vivid as their present; there is a wonderful sense of realism here.  The structure perfectly matches the plot, and the presence of the landscape is exquisite; it is always there, affecting the characters and, in part, being affected by them.  There is so much depth and emotion within Swimming Lessons, and so much to adore.

 

 

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida *****
In Vendela Vida’s taut and mesmerizing novel of ideas, a woman travels to Casablanca, Morocco, on mysterious business. While checking into her hotel, the woman is robbed of her wallet and passport all of her money and identification. Stripped of her identity, she feels burdened by the crime yet strangely liberated by her sudden freedom to be anyone she wants to be.  Told with vibrant, lush detail and a wicked sense of humor, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is part literary mystery, part psychological thriller an unforgettable novel that explores free will, power, and a woman s right to choose not her past, perhaps not her present, but certainly her future.9780062110916

I have very much enjoyed Vendela Vida’s previous novels; they provide fantastic, intelligent escapism, which grips one from the beginning through to the end, and give realistic glimpses into vivid and vibrant places.  Her most recent effort, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is no different, and the fact that Morocco is high on my travel list made me look forward to reading it even more.

The second person perspective was used masterfully throughout, and worked incredibly well.  The story itself is relatively simple on the whole, but it has a complexity all of its own.  The sense of unease which creeps in is almost unrecognisable at first, but – in part due to the narrative voice used – the reader becomes so invested within the story that its tension soon heightens.  Vida plays with the concepts of identity and loss in her tautly written novel, which has been extremely well paced.  Little clues are left along the way, but one never quite guesses what will happen next.  The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is a whirlwind of a novel, which begs for compulsive reading, and which deserves a far wider readership than it seems to have currently.

 

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‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ by Claire Fuller ****

Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days was purchased with some of my Christmas book vouchers, and was the eighth entry for my Read My Own Books project.  I chose to purchase the novel for two reasons – firstly, I had heard so many good things about it, and secondly, the initial sentence of the blurb captivated my attention entirely: ‘Peggy is eight years old when her father takes her to live in a cabin in a remote European forest’.  I adore books which feature child narrators or protagonists, who are wrenched from their comfort zones and have to find a way to cope with their new and unfamiliar surroundings.  I was half-expecting a dark, modern fairytale retelling to spiral from the pages.

Our Endless Numbered Days was the winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2015, and is also part of the Waterstones book club.  The novel has been so well reviewed.  The Sunday Express call it ‘Bewitching.  A riveting, dark tale, full of wonders, suspense and revelation, light and shadow’, and Esther Freud believes it to be ‘Utterly gripping, hypnotic.  I tore through it’.

Peggy is our first person narrator for the entirety, telling her story from a position of retrospective, a technique which allows her past to feel just as vivid as her present.  Her father, James Hillcoat, is part of the North London Retreaters group, which prepares for imminent disaster, and her mother, Ute, is a world-class pianist: ‘No one ever described Ute as beautiful – they used words like striking, arresting, singular.  But because she was a woman to be reckoned with the men composed themselves’.  Peggy’s parents came together through a turmoil of sorts: ‘For the public and critics, her relationship with James Hillcoat was a scandal.  Ute was at the height of her career and she gave it all up for the love of a seventeen-year-old boy.  They married the next year, as soon as it was legal’.  9780241003947Her father’s best friend, Oliver, is frank about his beliefs, telling him: ‘You know what the trouble is with you, James?  You’re so damn British.  And the rest of you – you’re all living in the dark ages, hiding in your cellars, driving off to the country like you’re going on a fucking Sunday picnic.  You still call yourselves Retreaters; the world’s moving on without you.  You haven’t even figured out that you’re survivalists’.

In 1976, whilst her mother is on a tour of her native Germany, Peggy’s father, under a mysterious cloud of anger, takes her to live in a forest, in a dilapidated structure called ‘die Hutte’, far away from civilisation, and a world away from the life she knows.  James tells her that her mother has died, and that is the reason why they are unable to return to their North London suburb.  The reality of Peggy’s situation really hits home with the position of retrospect which she adopts: ‘I had no idea that this wind-worn woman, creased and bag-eyed, standing outside her barn with her cow on a rope, would be the last person I would meet from the real world for another nine years.  Perhaps if I had known, I would have clung to the folds of her skirt, hooked my fingers over the waistband of her apron and touched my knees around one of her stout legs’.

From the start, Fuller’s writing is quite lovely in places; evidence of her Creative Writing MA, it seems: ‘And I thought that maybe it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  Knowing that the sun had shone, and the piano must have been played, and people had lived and breathed whilst I had been gone, helped steady me’.  The entire work is filled with interesting and intriguing details, which often add a sense of mystery to the whole as the plot unfolds: ‘The summer the photograph was taken, my father recast our cellar as a fallout shelter’ proclaims the first sentence of the second chapter, for instance.

Peggy is a lovely character, whom one cannot help but warm to.  Her childish observations and ways of trying to take life by surprise are endearing: ‘I liked to wake without moving my body to see if I could catch myself in that empty place between sleeping and walking, just as I became conscious of the world and the position of my body’.  She is made to grow up at the age of eight, little shocks coming at pivotal points in her journey to attaining adult levels of understanding: ‘As I followed behind him the diamond of blue canvas [from what used to be their tent] mocked me, the awful knowledge staring me in the face whilst I climbed that we wouldn’t be going home’.

The spacing of the plot points ensures that the reader’s interest in Peggy’s tale is sustained throughout.  Our Endless Numbered Days put me in mind of Frances Greenslade’s wonderful Shelter and Claire King’s charming The Night Rainbow from the very beginning.  The novel is engaging, and the tension builds quite marvellously.  Fuller’s writing is taut and emotionally charged, and Peggy is a believable narrator who lingers in the mind for a long while after the final page has been read.

Purchase from The Book Depository