‘Ninepins is an isolated former tollhouse, standing high on a bank beside a waterway in the Cambridgeshire fens. There, since her divorce, Laura lives alone with her 12-year-old daughter, Beth. Below the bank stands the old pumphouse – a former fen drainage station – which is rented to a series of student lodgers. But this year’s lodger is different: Willow is seventeen, and in local authority care. Battling down her reservations, Laura takes her on.
Do Willow’s strangenesses and her mysterious and troubled past make her a threat to Laura and, especially, to Beth? What were the circumstances surrounding the act of arson which led to Willow being taken into care? Set against the brooding landscape of the fens, Ninepins explores the perils and rewards of bringing a stranger into your home. It traces a mother’s fears for her daughter as she struggles to decide whether Willow is vulnerable or dangerous – or perhaps a bit of both.’
The eponymous Ninepins is a house in the Cambridgeshire fens lived in by Laura and her daughter Beth. Looking for a new lodger, Laura agrees to allow 17-year-old care-leaver Willow to move in. However, Willow has something of a mysterious, and possibly criminal, past, making Laura reluctant to let her guard down completely and trust her with Beth. What isn’t clear is whether Willow is just a young woman in need of some support and a helping hand, or if she poses a real danger to those around her.
‘Ninepins’ is the first of Thornton’s novels to be published by Sandstone Press, and despite the very different cover design, the writer’s usual wonderful style is clear from the start. Thornton’s love of the Cambridge fens shines out from every page; her descriptions of the landscape around the house are beautiful, and created the most wonderful imagery in my mind.
Although dark in places, ‘Ninepins’ is essentially a gentle drama and much of the action takes place literally around the kitchen sink: caring for others, and in particular cooking for them, is central to Laura’s character. The story deals with three very different, but very engaging, heroines. They’re all at very different stages in their lives, but the author manages to capture the essence of each of them perfectly. She does an especially fine job of brilliantly portraying the anguish and confusion of being a twelve year old girl, naturally misunderstood by every adult she knows. Thornton encapsulates the trauma of being a child on the verge of teenagerdom so well, without ever resorting to teenage caricature.
The relationship between Laura and Beth was for me the very heart of the novel. The descriptions of Laura’s desperation and confusion as she tries to win back the little girl she once knew make slightly uncomfortable reading - it’s just so honest! At times Laura almost drove me to despair with now ridiculously nice and understanding she was; I wanted to shake some sense into her, either that or make everyone around her appreciate how lovely she was.
The ending felt like a little bit of a let down when I first read it, but I was happier upon contemplation; in a way I decided it felt more like a beginning for the characters: a new, and very hopeful, chapter in all their lives.
Rosy Thornton writes very fine fiction indeed and ‘Ninepins’ is sure to delight new readers as well as her current numerous faithful followers. Thornton’s characterisation is absolutely top notch and creates a tale that both captivated and enthralled. I heartily recommend.
4 and a half stars
'A rural idyll: that’s what Catherine is seeking when she sells her house in England and moves to a tiny hamlet in the Cévennes mountains. With her divorce in the past and her children grown, she is free to make a new start, and her dream is to set up in business as a seamstress. But this is a harsh and lonely place when you’re no longer just here on holiday. There is French bureaucracy to contend with, not to mention the mountain weather, and the reserve of her neighbours, including the intriguing Patrick Castagnol. And that’s before the arrival of Catherine’s sister, Bryony…'
Catherine is a 48 year old divorcee building a new life for herself in France. She finds herself settling near the small hamlet of St Julien in the Cevennes; an area with fond memories from childhood holidays.
Naturally Catherine knows that moving to a foreign country by herself is not going to be all plain-sailing: for a start she’ll miss her family in England, and then of course there are the language and cultural barriers – she does speak pretty good French, but how will her neighbours, few though they are, take to an English woman moving into their neighbourhood? And will her French be up to dealing with all the bureaucracy which goes alongside setting up her soft furnishings business in a French national park?
Of Catherine’s new neighbours, one stands out to her in particular – Patrick Castagnol, a handsome, mysterious and, most importantly, single man. Before long a friendship develops between the two, and Catherine begins to realise that she really likes Patrick. However, who should then turn up to visit? None other than Catherine’s younger, and very pretty, sister Bryony. Bryony is a city girl through and through, and seems unlikely to forego what she considers the only really worthwhile entertainment in the area.
Patrick is certainly a very satisfying romantic interest to read about, especially in his rather sexy scene towards the end of the book: just what a girl would expect from a handsome French man. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the author’s explanation of why he’s back living in the region, but I decided to let that slide in favour of my pure enjoyment of the novel.
The very different way of life that Catherine has chosen is meticulously described, as is the area in which she decides to settle. The locals and location are idyllic in many ways, and the author quite obviously knows the region and the people very well, their good points as well as the bad! The book is slow-paced, but it mirrors the way of life in the region and so suits the style of book. I particularly enjoyed Catherine’s visit back to England when she has to make the decision whether or not to return to her life in France, isolated as it is, or take the easier route of staying in England with her family nearby.
This really is such a beautifully written book: the type that transports you into it, and leaves you a little bewildered at coming back to reality when you close it. It’s both enjoyable and uplifting, even worth renting a cottage for in the middle of French nowhere, just to immerse yourself in it completely and enjoy it to its fullest.