Ninepins by Rosy Thornton

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Ninepins by Rosy Thornton

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Tense, engaging an atmospheric - I read the book in two sittings, deeply resentful of the fact that I had to put it down in between. A much better read than the cover might suggest.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2012
Publisher: Sandstone Press
ISBN: 978-1905207855

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Laura lives deep in the Cambridgeshire Fens with her daughter Beth and at the time that we meet them she's just coming up to her twelfth birthday. Her father has remarried and now has three young sons, but mother and father decided early on that they would have cordial relations for Beth's sake - and the habit has stuck. Money from Beth's father is a little hit and miss, so Laura has been in the habit of letting out the pumphouse - once a drainage station - to students, but this time its occupant is Willow, who is seventeen years old and who has been in care. It takes a while for her history to emerge, but her mother was a hippy with no sense of responsibility and it seems that Willow might have been guilty of arson.

Willow's social worker thinks that Laura ought to lighten up a bit with Beth, but that's easier said than done when Beth is asthmatic and they do live out in the wilds. What do you do when she gets into trouble at school or when she wants to do things which aren't really suitable for a twelve year old? How do you react when the 'friends' she makes at her new school are plainly giving Beth grief? Strangely enough it's Beth's friendship with Willow which seems to be causing the fewest problems, but is Laura right to make that judgement?

Right - negative point out of the way first. My heart sank when I saw Rosy Thornton's latest book. I've been reviewing hew work for several years now and I'm used to beautiful hardbacks and elegantly-finished paperbacks - and I was holding a book with a dull cover which was finished with that film which peels away as you read. It was with relief that I saw that Thornton has moved to Sandstone Press, publishers of The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers which was long-listed for the 2011 Man Booker prize. So the cover might not be as impressive, but it was unlikely that the quality of what was between them had fallen away.

And it hadn't. Thornton's commercial writing has fallen into two genres. There's the unashamed chick-lit works such as Crossed Wires and the more thought-provoking Hearts and Minds - and I've always much preferred the latter. Ninepins is superficially similar to Hearts and Minds in setting and atmosphere and just as thought-provoking. I began to read with a sigh of relief.

Thornton is very good with female characters. I understood Laura - I've been a single parent myself - and she captures the difficulties and uncertainties perfectly, but the star of the book is Beth. She's still a child, despite being quite big, but she's wanting independence and to do things which strike terror into her mother's heart. All her life she's been trustworthy and responsible, but she's on the cusp of going wrong - unless Laura can play it absolutely right. Thornton balances this perfectly.

There's lots to discuss in the book - it would be great for a reading group - and I'd like to thank the author for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals to you then we think that you might enjoy anything by Linda Gillard.

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Buy Ninepins by Rosy Thornton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ninepins by Rosy Thornton at


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