Peggy Hillcoat is the daughter of a famous German concert pianist and an English survivalist, who despite the disapproval of his wife keeps stockpiling supplies in a shelter in their garden and preparing for the worst. Only eight years old, she doesn't question what is happening when her father takes her away from their big house in London while her mother is away on tour. He takes her to the German countryside, to a delapitated cabin remote in the mountains, explaining that this is their home now and that there's been a terrible disaster, they are the only ones left in the entire world.
Peggy is distraught that she'll never get to see her mother or her school friends again, but soon settles into her new reality, helping her father as best she can to get the cabin livable and gathering the supplies that they need to survive. The book begins in 1985, nine years later, when Peggy has been returned to her mother and is trying to adapt to a very different life once more. Little by little the readers discover the reasons her father took her away in the first place, and the details of the years she spent in the lonely wilderness with only the woods and her imagination for entertainment.
Because the book begins in 1985, after Peggy is returned to her mother, the reader is never in doubt that she will survive, even when the story gets really tense and dramatic. Living off the land in a primitive mountain hut is not easy at the best of times, but Peggy makes it clear in her recollections that she and her father were badly prepared for their first winter and I had flashbacks to reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, when she and her family are trying their hardest not to starve to death.
While much of Peggy's adolescence is filled with whimsy and her frolicking in the woods, it is quite clear that her father is a seriously unstable man and that he truly comes to believe the lie he told his daugher. Even early on in the novel it is obvious that something really bad happened before Peggy was returned to civilisation and discovered that her father lied to her all those years. As the book progresses, the suspense increases and my sense of dread with it.
This is a really good book, already highly rated by five other Cannonballers. It's probably not the relaxing holiday read I was looking for, rather a haunting and suspenseful story that will stay with me for a long time.
Judging a book by its cover: The edition I read is pretty much black and white, and black is absolutely the dominant colour. The darkness is very suitable for the contents. The centre of the picture is a simple cabin, surrounded by spindly trees - probably Die Hutte, where Peggy spent most of her adolescence. Despite the picture being very simple, it conveys something ominous and sinister, which again is very apt for this book.