Author: Rosy Thornton
Genre: Contemporary fiction, British fiction
Publisher: Sandstone Press
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the author
First line: Half past two: she was certain she’d said half past two.
Goodreads quote: Deep in the Cambridgeshire fens, Laura is living alone with her 12-year old daughter Beth, in the old tollhouse known as Ninepins. She’s in the habit of renting out the pumphouse, once a fen drainage station, to students, but this year she’s been persuaded to take in 17-year-old Willow, a care-leaver with a dubious past, on the recommendation of her social worker, Vince. Is Willow dangerous or just vulnerable? It’s possible she was once guilty of arson; her mother’s hippy life is gradually revealed as something more sinister; and Beth is in trouble at school and out of it. Laura’s carefully ordered world seems to be getting out of control. With the tension of a thriller, Ninepins explores the idea of family, and the volatile and changing relationships between mothers and daughters, in a landscape that is beautiful but – as they all discover – perilous.
I’ve read two of Rosy Thornton’s previous books, Crossed Wires and Tapestry of Love, and enjoyed them very much. I also enjoyed Ninepins, but I worry for other readers who choose the book based on the cover blurb. It’s that little phrase “with the tension of a thriller” that is misleading. Is this book more thriller-like than her previous two? Yes. Is it a thriller? No. It, is however, an extremely readable work of contemporary fiction.
Laura is a frustratingly real character. Her parenting skills drove me crazy! I am a much more involved parent with my teenage daughter than she is, and as I read, there were times I wished that I could sit her down and tell her that it is not her job to be her daughter’s friend! Am I friends with my teenage daughter? Absolutely. But I don’t back off and give her space when there is something very worrying going on in her life. (Okay, parenting rant over.)
I only feel that strongly about characters that seem completely real to me, and my reaction to Laura is a testament to Thornton’s ability to write authentic stories about flesh and blood people. Laura is someone I could imagine meeting on the street.
Willow is a character that is harder to pin down. Thornton does a good job of drawing out the suspense: is Willow simply a teenage girl who has had a horrible past and is in need of someone to love her? Or is she dangerous? And what about her bipolar mother who keeps showing up at Ninepins? Is she harmless and addled? Or does Laura need to be concerned for the safety of her daughter?
Beth is a typical 12-year-old girl, caught in that in-between time. She wants to be a teenager, but in so many ways is still a little girl. Her asthma has made it difficult for Laura to let her go and have her freedom. Beth sees in Willow an older sister-type, someone to be looked up to, someone a little dangerous and wild, and the two become close.
While I said this book isn’t a thriller, it does have elements of suspense, and it did keep me wondering until the end about Willow and her motives for being at Ninepins. This was a hard book to put down, not only for the suspense, but because it also includes the beautiful descriptions of setting and the rhythms of daily life that I have come to love in this author’s work.
I always learn more about British culture and cuisine when I read one of Rosy Thornton’s books, and this one wasn’t any different. While reading, I looked up Jaffa Cakes, Battenberg Cake, and Maltesers.