What’s it all about?:
Peggy Hillcoat is eight years old when her survivalist father, James, takes her from their home in London to a remote hut in the woods and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Deep in the wilderness, Peggy and James make a life for themselves. They repair the hut, bathe in water from the river, hunt and gather food in the summers and almost starve in the harsh winters. They mark their days only by the sun and the seasons.
When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest and begins a search for their owner, she unwittingly begins to unravel the series of events that brought her to the woods and, in doing so, discovers the strength she needs to go back to the home and mother she thought she’d lost.
After Peggy’s return to civilisation, her mother learns the truth of her escape, of what happened to James on the last night out in the woods, and of the secret that Peggy has carried with her ever since.
What did I think?:
I first came across this astounding book on Twitter where it was receiving many rave reviews and I’ve been meaning to read it for so long so when Richard and Judy chose it for their Spring Book Club here in the UK I was delighted and now I’m left wondering just what took me so long? This is a truly beautiful and yes, disturbing read but one I will be eternally glad that I’ve experienced. From the very first page I was suckered in through the eyes of a young girl whom we hear from at her current age of seventeen and as an eight year old girl when something happened to her that has the potential to change her entire life – and has been far from an easy one so far.
Re-united with her mother Ute, a concert pianist, Peggy has to rebuild her relationship with her and a nine year old brother that she has never even met or heard of. For Peggy was taken away by her father, a survivalist, when she was eight years old and was told that the world had ended and everybody she loved had died. Of course, this wasn’t true but she was made to believe that their only hope was to move to die Hütte, a remote cabin surrounded by miles of woodland and live off the land, something her father has had plenty of training for.
The story skips backwards and forwards in time as the author builds tension and mystery in perfection, showcasing the naivety of young Peggy and the obsessive behaviour of her troubled father. At first, Peggy treats it as a big adventure and there are many happy memories as she learns to hunt for food and even play the piano on a special noiseless piano that her father makes for her, teaching her how each note should sound by humming the melodies. However, there are bad times in abundance, particularly in winter when food grows scarce and father and daughter come desperately close to starvation. As she becomes a teenager, Peggy starts to have serious doubts about everything her father has told her and when she finds a pair of boots in the forest, she realises that they may not be completely alone.
That’s all I really want to say about the plot of the book as I think to read it is to experience it in all its wonder, intrigue and darkness. Peggy as a character stole my heart from the very beginning and I loved how she developed independence and questioning of her father’s curious behaviour as the story continued. I found myself really rooting for her strength and despairing at how much of her childhood she had lost as she returned to her mother. Claire Fuller has played an absolute blinder with this, her debut novel and expertly weaves past and present into a cohesive whole that has the reader questioning everything while completely breaking your heart. I’m eagerly anticipating her second novel next year that I’m in no doubt will leave me on tenterhooks once more.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):