Ninepins (by Rosy Thornton)

I discovered Rosy Thornton several years ago, and have read and enjoyed several of her books. I was given this one for my birthday a year ago, and finally sat down to read it.

‘Ninepins’ is the name of an old house in the Cambridgeshire fens. It’s near a dyke, and has a pump-house which works as a guest flat, and has been let out to a series of students. We meet Laura, the owner, as she hurries home from work to meet a new potential tenant: 17-year-old Willow, along with her social worker Vince.

Despite initial reservations, Laura decides to accept Willow. Laura has an eleven-year-old daughter, Beth, and is amicably divorced from Beth’s father who has a new family and pops in and out of their lives through the book. Laura lives in reasonable comfort, but evidently needs the money from the lodger, and the extra bonus from social services is useful.

But Willow is a troubled young person; her childhood was bohemian, but not in a good sense. We gradually build up a picture of a hippy-style somewhat neglectful mother, and a little girl forced to grow up before she was ready to. Willow is a nice contrast to Beth, whose mother takes rather too much care of her and struggles to let Beth grow up and be more independent.

The blurb describes this as having the tension of a thriller, but (thankfully) I didn’t feel that way at all. I don’t like books with a lot of tension. It’s more of a character-based domestic book; much revolves around the kitchen and Laura’s need to look after her daughter and, gradually, Willow too. Vince, the social worker, continues to make regular appearances and is a likeable man.

Willow stays rather shadowy and inward looking, very different from Beth but drawn to her too. Beth makes some poor decisions about her friends and struggles through her school days, developing rather young teenage angst; but her upbringing stands her in good stead, at least most of the time. Laura is kind and caring but can be a bit too pushy; I wanted to nudge her arm sometimes, to tell her to hold back, to listen more to Beth’s point of view, to allow her to make her own decisions. It’s a sign of a highly believable character.

Rosy Thornton writes very well; some of the descriptions left me a bit cold, but then I’m not a visual person. I was none the wiser as to what dykes or fens looked like even after finishing the book, but it didn’t particularly matter. I could vaguely imagine the pump house and the kitchen; I suspect a good picture was painted, however, for those who are more drawn to sensory detail.

I think I'd have preferred the ending to be a bit more conclusive, but perhaps it was better left somewhat open.

It took me a little while to get into the story, and nearly ten days to finish it; but all in all, I enjoyed this book very much. Recommended to anyone who enjoys women's fiction that's character-based.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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