Hilary's Reviews > Ninepins

Ninepins by Rosy Thornton
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May 01, 12

Read in April, 2012

Rosy Thornton's fifth and latest novel is set in a majestic and wholly believable fenland landscape, and concerns Laura and her daughter Beth, who live in a unique situation next to a lode. Part of the property is a separate building, a pump house, which Laura lets out. Their latest tenant is Willow, an enigmatic care leaver with a chaotic past, who under the eye of her social worker Vince is taking a first step towards independent living.

Rosy Thornton, as ever, displays what a beautiful writer she is, and how well she reveals the inner life of her characters. Once again, she writes of women (and I include the 12 year old Beth in this) who are negotiating change in their lives with resilience and and courage. At the same time, the reality of growing up with all its angst, feeling the temptation to be cool, and experiencing the unique brand of cruelty that young girls mete out to one another, are described with perception and precision. Even as she appears trailing mystery and slight menace, I found myself rooting for the 17 year old Willow. It is obvious how much Thornton empathises with her young characters and as a result makes them so believable. She also manages to avoid a stereotype with a credible scenario of social care, in Vince, Willow's social worker, getting it right, getting it wrong, but doing his best to embody a figure of trust after an ambiguous start - and later something more?

As with The Tapestry Of Love, the landscape is pretty well a character in its own right. Lovingly yet fearlessly described, the fens formed a visible backdrop in my mind's eye as I read the novel, sometimes taking centre stage, as when the waters that are kept in check with such difficulty rise up and flood the pump house. Laura's deep love for this rebarbative countryside, with its enormous sky and straight lines, makes her decision to continue living in such isolation all of a piece with her undoubted strength of character. It almost seems recklessly brave - I know I'd have taken the better part and moved back to Cambridge. (While we're on the subject, another aspect of Laura's heroic qualities that I could never emulate is her tolerance of her ex - I'd have found it almost too hard to refrain from crowning him with a heavy object.)

Yet again, Rosy Thornton explores the sacrificial and the civilised in family breakdown, which is so heartening. Her writing goes from strength to strength, and, while this novel moves into darker territory of mental illness and the pain of growing up in chaos, she reminds us of the bonds of love that can bind us and how much there can be left over to share.

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