Book Review: Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller

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Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller (Anansi, 2015)

I read Claire Fuller’s most recent novel, Swimming Lessons, (review here) last year and was intrigued enough by her writing to seek out her previous book at the local library. I’m glad I did because I actually liked Our Endless Numbered Days quite a bit more than I liked Swimming Lessons. A book part of that is the style of this story – I tend to not enjoy letter-style novels such as Swimming Lessons. At the same time, I simply found the story of Our Endless Numbered Days more fascinating.

Peggy is eight years old when her survivalist father tells her that the world has ended. He takes her deep into the forest, to an abandoned hut, where they begin their new life. She believes his stories of the destruction of the rest of the world, of the death of her mother. Being a child, she has little recourse but to trust him and rely on him, even as he demonstrates himself to be increasingly unstable.

The story is mostly about Peggy’s time with her father, James, but interspersed chapters show her as a seventeen-year-old, returned to the world and her mother. In these chapters we witness Peggy struggle to adjust to normal life and we are unsure how she returned and where James is.

Fuller does a great job of not romanticizing what is essentially a kidnapping story. This is no idyllic back-to-nature tale. James is ill-equipped to survive and the two are constantly on the brink of starvation. Without going overboard, Fuller shows us the dirt and discomfort such a life would entail. Knowing that Peggy does eventually escape kept me wanting to read more, wanting to find out how and when. The “twist” that comes at the end seemed obvious to me and a little heavy-handed but I can see what Fuller was going for and, overall, it doesn’t weaken the novel.

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What I Read – March 2018

Read:

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday Canada, 2011)

More style than substance though I enjoyed it while I was reading it. A month (or less) later, I can’t remember much but it entertained me at the time.

And No Birds Sang – Farley Mowat (McClelland & Stewart, 1979)

Mowat is a Canadian classic and I’ve read a few of his books now, all ranging broadly in subject. This is his memoir of his time serving during World War Two. It was recommended to me by a friend who has served in the Canadian armed forces. It’s an honest and brutal book.

(I reviewed a young adult novel by Mowat, The Curse of the Viking Grave, here.)

Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger (Bantam Books, 1986)

A re-read. Sometimes you just need some quick, interesting short stories, you know?

A Mariner’s Guide to Self-Sabotage – Bill Gaston (Douglas & McIntyre, 2017)

I wrote a review for this one! Read it here.

The Icarus Girl – Helen Oyeyemi (Nan A. Tales/Doubleday, 2005)

And another review! Read it here. Maybe I’ll actually start writing real reviews again.

Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller (Anansi, 2015)

Still hoping to write a real review for this book. Stay tuned…

Didn’t Finish:

The Gift of Rain – Tan Twang Eng

(After hearing multiple recommendations of this book I was really disappointed. I just could not get into it and found the beginning dragged on and on until I gave up. What clinched its abandonment for me was also the repeated negative portrayals of all things Chinese. As far as I could see, it wasn’t necessary and added nothing to the story other than making me dislike the narrator.)

Currently Reading:

The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien

When I was a Child I Read Books – Marilynne Robinson

Funny Once: Stories – Antonya Nelson

Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains – Yasuko Thanh

What I Read – November 2016

Station ElevenEmily St. John Mandel (Harper Avenue, 2014)

At the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness Andrew Peterson (Water Brook Press, 2008)

Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller (House of Anansi Press, 2017)

Prayer – Timothy Keller (Dutton, 2014)

I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith (Red Fox, 2001)

A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis (Faber & Faber, 2013)

By Gaslight – Steven Price (McClelland & Stewart, 2016)

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaAnthony Marra (Vintage Canada, 2014)

Currently Reading:

Reflections on the Psalms – C.S. Lewis

The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories – Tolstoy

Book Review: Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

Swimming Lessons - Claire Fuller (House of Anansi Press, 2017)

Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller (House of Anansi Press, 2017)

(Update: I neglected to mention originally that I read this book in an Advanced Reading Copy and the novel will be published in January 2017.)

Swimming Lessons is the story of a family told from opposite directions, a mystery and a disappearance in the middle. In the present day storyline, sisters Nan and Flora return home to care for their elderly father after he has a fall. Gil is a famous novelist who hasn’t written anything or even done much work in years. (Definite shades of I Capture the Castle here.) Nan is the responsible nurse, Flora the wild younger sister.

In alternating chapters, the origin story of their family is told in the form of letters written from the girls’ mother, Ingrid, to Gil. Ingrid details the start of and disintegration of their marriage, hiding the letters inside Gil’s immense book collection before she completely disappears. Ingrid’s disappearance takes place eleven years before the present day timeline and still her daughters and husband don’t know what happened to her.

I generally find the epistolary-style of storytelling to be artificial. Why is Ingrid going into great detail to tell Gil things he already knows, or describing things he’s seen himself? Hiding the letters in the books seems like more of a gimmick than something a real person would do. That said, Gil and Ingrid’s story is far more interesting than Nan and Flora’s. Nan is more of a side character while Flora dips toward the cliche with her unsteady behaviour. Dying Gil seems nothing like the vibrant, charismatic man Ingrid describes but maybe that’s the point.

It’s a sad story, about the things left unsaid in relationships and the power we have to hur those we love most. While I didn’t find anything spectacular here, overall the novel was still an entertaining read and I would be willing to read more from Fuller.