I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
“Dates only make us aware of how numbered our days are, how much to death we are for each one we cross off. From now on, Punzel, we’re going to live by the sun and the seasons. Our days will be endless.”
Our Endless Numbered Days is a quietly powerful novel which seems to have split the opinions of reviewers.
It’s about a girl who is forced to live in the wilderness for eight years with her father. It’s about their long, seemingly endless days, spent with just each other and the nature surrounding them for company, their struggles living off the wilderness, and her integration back into family and society.
Taken away from her family and her everyday life in 1976, eight-year-old Peggy doesn’t have the time or inclination to question her survivalist father when he tells her they must go on a ‘holiday’. They retreat to a German cabin nestled in the heart of a forest – affectionately named ‘Die Hutte’ – and soon Peggy realises this is much more than an extended break. Her father encourages her to learn to live off the land; foraging for food and surviving with very little in the way of amenities. One day, he returns from his trips around the forest following a strong storm with the devastating news “The rest of the world has gone.” And so the two must build a life in the forest; seemingly the only two people left in the world.
The chapters exploring Peggy and her father’s journey to a life in the forest are interspersed with chapters set years later, as Peggy returns to her family following living almost a decade surviving off the wilderness. Through the twin narratives the story gradually unfolds; why did Peggy’s father take her away? How did they spend their time in the woods? And how has she eventually been able to return to her family?
This book seems have split reviewer opinions, which I think may be partly down to the way in which it straddles various genres. The story blends a family drama with hints of apocalyptic thriller and strong themes of survivalism. It’s also quite literary – the author draws the reader into the environment with pages of beautiful descriptive writing capturing the nature of the forest which almost becomes a third character in itself.
For me, it felt reminiscent of Room by Emma Donaghue, a book I hugely enjoyed when I read it a few years ago, but unfortunately this doesn’t quite have the power and emotional connection that Room had for me. What it does have in common is that sense of isolation; of a parent and child alone against the rest of the world – and an extremely strong, authentic and compelling voice from the child protagonist.
On the subject of the child protagonist, I do have a gripe about the categorisation of this book. Many people are placing it in the YA genre due to the the narrator’s age. To me, there is no way that this is young adult fiction. Like with Room, a young protagonist does not make a young adult novel . This book is littered with subtle nuances which I believe would go over the heads of younger readers and the over-arching themes are too dark for YA.
It’s difficult to review this novel, with its myriad of themes and dark twists buried in the last few pages; it’s more one people should experience for themselves. You’ll either love it or hate it – personally, I’m glad I requested this one, but I was left feeling a little traumatised.