“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.”
Thoughts: Rosy Thornton’s latest novel, Ninepins, opens upon the world of the Cambridgeshire fens – earthen dikes that hold vigil over ancient moors and peat bogs, keeping battling against Mother Nature to keep the sea at bay. Enter Laura, a single mother trying to maintain her orderly world, but her twelve-year-old daughter is proving difficult to understand. The addition of Willow, a teenage girl with her own secrets and problems, only adds to the tension and confusion.
As in other novels, Ms. Thornton skillfully manages to create a complete world in a few powerful sentences. Each sentence in Ninepins is masterfully constructed to establish a painstaking attention to detail that allows the reader to create vivid mental images with a minimal amount of words. A reader could step onto the Cambridgeshire fens in real life and recognize certain sites based on their descriptions alone. These details also extend to Laura, her motivations, thoughts, and desires, as well as the minutest details of her apartment. It is akin to looking at a home movie, except there are no images to help fuel the reader’s imagination.
Gloria is the type of heroine with whom mothers everywhere can relate, although liking her is something completely different. She is the quintessential mother hen, clucking after her chick and always prepared to viciously defend her. However, unlike a true mother hen, Gloria’s problems stem from the fact that she finds it difficult to navigate the waters of teenage drama and struggles with learning to let go of the parenting reins. At the same time, she waffles between being the parent and being the child in her relationship with her daughter. It is a bit disconcerting to watch Laura complicate issues further because she is afraid to take a stand against her twelve-year-old. To that end, Vince is the perfect foil and thankfully adds some much-needed common sense to the entire equation. Without him, the story would have a distinctly YA feel, where the parents are afterthoughts to the teen’s antics.
Ninepins is the type of novel that draws a reader into a scene and makes them feel like they are a direct player in it. Readers will want to knock some sense into the characters because their actions can be almost painful to watch unfold. They can smell the pasta boiling, feel the dampness of the water-soaked earth, hear the chirping of the birds, and taste the multiple bottles of wine drunk throughout the novel. It is the type of semi-active participation within a novel that enhances a story. In Ninepins, the reader’s involvement within the novel serves to offset the bitter aftertaste left by some of Laura’s more annoying behaviors.
Ninepins is exactly what readers have come to expect from Ms. Thornton. As always, her prose is absolutely beautiful, with its poetic and lush descriptions and piercing dialogue that drives to the heart of her characters. She embraces the flaws in each of her characters, making them all the more realistic while offsetting some of the exoticness of her chosen locale. There is also a thoroughness to her explanations that guarantee readers have a thorough understanding of each of the main characters’ motivations and thought processes. Readers may have issues with characters’ actions, or lack thereof, but they cannot complain that they do not understand why a character acts a certain way. The result is a gorgeous exploration of relationships and their ever-changing nature.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to the author for my review copy!