Synopsis: 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. Simultaneously, an older Peggy is reintroduced to her family and confronts the story of her return to civilisation.
Review: I've altered the synopsis somewhat, as it told literally the entire story except one bit at the end. It still tells quite a lot, but to be fair, the book tells you a lot itself from the outset - we know from page one that Peggy survives and returns to her mother's house in London - what we don't know, and ultimately discover is why her father took her away, and how she ultimately returned home 9 years later.
What a book. For the first two thirds or so, I thought it was going to be a 4 star read - the writing is phenomenal (particularly for a debut!) and while it was a genuine pleasure to read about how Peggy and James came to live in the forest, as well as how they survived there for years, the pace was quite slow, and I wasn't sure much was really going to happen. While there are elements of an idealistic return to nature, there are very dark underpinnings and implications throughout; a fascinating portrayal of madness viewed through a rose-tinted lens.
The final quarter (maybe third) of the book turns a lot of things on their head. The ending seems to polarise people - half seem to see it coming a mile off and feel let down, others are utterly bewildered at the very end. I was somewhere in the middle - at a particular point about 50 pages from the end I copped it, and I copped it all at once. Every slightly odd occurrence or minor detail I noted as particularly interesting throughout the book all snapped into place to form the most obvious, but perfect, ending, and my appreciation of Fuller's skill skyrocketed. This novel is most deserving of my first 5 star rating of the year.