Rosy Thornton’s new book is a departure in tone from her earlier books. Ninepins reads like a sophisticated thriller but a thriller that’s firmly based in the everyday lives of Laura & her daughter, Beth.
Laura & Beth live in a remote tollhouse in the fens. Laura rents out the former pumphouse to students to help make ends meet but her new tenant isn’t a student. Willow has been in care for the last few years & now, at 17, she’s ready to try independent living. She has had a troubled past with a neglectful mother & a history of attempted arson (which Laura only gradually discovers). Willow had seen the photo of the pumphouse & wanted to live there rather than in a bedsit in Cambridge. So, she arrives to have a look at the place with her social worker, Vince.
Laura is cautious about renting the pumphouse to Willow but is convinced by Vince & the fact that it’s too late in the year to find another student tenant. Willow seems a little remote but Beth takes to her & Laura tries to forget her reservations. Laura is also preoccupied by Beth, who’s at an awkward age between childhood & the teenage years. Beth seems to be unhappy at school & Laura doesn’t like some of the new friends she’s made. Beth suffers from asthma & Laura tries not to be overprotective. She also has an awkward relationship with Beth’s father, now remarried & with a new young family. The atmosphere at Ninepins becomes tense as winter approaches & the beautiful landscape of the fens becomes more threatening. And then the reappearance of Willow’s mother brings the tension to a new level.
Ninepins is an absorbing book. I love books set in remote, wintry landscapes & the atmosphere of the fens & the river is beautifully evoked. The house itself is a character in the plot, a brooding presence in the landscape. The heart of the book, though, is the relationship between Laura & Beth. Mother-daughter relationships can be strained, especially at the beginning of the teenage years when everything a mother says can be misunderstood as interference. For Laura, her feelings of inadequacy are increased by her broken marriage & her worries about Beth’s health & friendships. Her own growing relationship with Vince also puts some stress on her relationship with Beth. We also see events from Willow’s point of view which only adds to the sense of dread. The events at the end of the book will either clear the atmosphere or destroy Laura’s world forever.
Rosy Thornton kindly sent me a copy of Ninepins for review. You can read more about Rosy & her other books at her website here.