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Ninepins by Rosy Thornton

Ninepins (edition 2012)

by Rosy Thornton

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286389,858 (3.86)None
Authors:Rosy Thornton
Info:Sandstone Press Ltd (2012), Paperback, 320 pages
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Ninepins by Rosy Thornton



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Laura lives with her 11 year old daughter Beth in a remote home in the fens. She lets out the pump house in her grounds to a new tenant, Willow, a 17 year old in care.

I don't know if I just wasn't in the mood, but everything was just so miserable. Willow's story was tragic. Beth treated Laura like dirt and seemed rather "mature" for an 11 year old. I skimmed most of it as it began to read like social issues dressed up with a bit of a storyline. ( )
  pgchuis | Feb 1, 2016 |
‘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; she's there 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 a lodger, and the extra bonus from social services is useful....

The blurb describes this as having the tension of a thriller, but (thankfully) I didn’t feel that way at all. 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. Laura is caring and kind, but a bit too pushy at times; I wanted to nudge her arm sometimes, to tell her to listen more to Beth’s point of view. 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.

It took me a while to get into the story, and nearly ten days to finish it; but all in all, I enjoyed this book very much.
( )
  SueinCyprus | Jan 26, 2016 |
If characters were perfect, there wouldn’t be much material for a book. On the other hand, one can’t make them too obnoxious, or readers wouldn’t want to hang out with them for the length of the story. In Ninepins, Rosy Thornton had me right at the brink of “too irritating” with her primary protagonist, Laura.

Laura, a divorced mom with primary custody of her daughter Beth, who has just turned twelve, has never heard of the notion that mothers may, in fact, discipline their daughters. Beth is going through rough times – not only because she wants so much to be “normal” and fit in, but because she is hanging out in school with a very bad group of girls who have somehow convinced her they are desirably cool. Beth starts getting into a great deal of trouble, including smoking although she has asthma, skipping choir practice and letting down the whole group, shoplifting, yelling at her mother and other adults to “shut up!” and at one point, even shouting at her mother that she was “a miserable, controlling old cow.” No matter: Laura doesn’t say a word, nor does she deny Beth anything she wants. There is no docking of allowance, no abrogation of privileges, not even a lecture. It drove me crazy!

Still, I liked Laura (aside from her methods of parenting), and wanted to see how it would all come out (and, especially, if she would acquire some backbone).

Overly kind-hearted in addition to being a pushover, Laura rents out a room at her homestead (called “Ninepins”) to a troubled 17-year-old, Willow, who was suspected of arson, and whose mentally ill mother, Marianne, has been deemed unable to care for her. Laura also becomes friends with Willow’s social worker, Vince.

As all of them get to know one another, even Willow notices how reluctant Laura is to “parent” Beth: "She [Laura] was always the one to appease and ingratiate; Willow has seen it over and over. It was pathetic, really, creeping around her kid, trying to please her all the time, as if Beth were the mother and Laura the child.”

And although Willow eventually gets close to Beth, she looks down on her outrageous provocations of Laura:

"Whining, crying – as if she had anything to complain about. Princess Beth with her perfect life, who had everything and took it all for granted; stupid, thoughtless Beth who had it all but was determined to wreck it, to chuck it all away. She would ruin everything, and not only for herself.”

The five main characters – Laura, Beth, Willow, Vince, and Willow’s mother Marianne – do a long slow minuet from being strangers or estranged to learning about each others’ pasts and starting to think in terms of each others’ futures. But with two troubled teens, one psychotic mother, one inadequate mother, and one lonely social worker, the road is difficult and even dangerous.

Evaluation: Rosy Thornton is a skillful portrayer of family dynamics, but her stories move along at a languid pace. This characteristic is something many readers appreciate. I, being both a Type A personality and a Type A reader, am more inclined not to be the best audience for this type of writing. But I don’t mean at all to disparage the book. It’s a good character study and a good exploration of the pressures of parenting. It's just not necessarily a good fit for my own predilections as a reader. ( )
  nbmars | Oct 15, 2012 |
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!
  jmchshannon | Jul 3, 2012 |
Laura is a single mother who has suddenly found her life to be much more complicated than it was before. Not only has she agreed to a 17-year old tenant, Willow, but her daughter Beth is showing symptoms of the “terrible tweens”, a condition that leaves the “terrible twos” in its hormone-ridden dust. Ninepins is their home, situated at the edge of both the town and of the fens (a type of wetland, for those Americans not familiar with the term). Their isolation is both a blessing and a curse, providing them with privacy but causing problems at times, especially when it comes to Beth, newly trying to assert her independence. When Willow’s supposedly-institutionalized mother shows up, it’s clear they are not isolated enough.

Rosy Thornton has a way of writing that I can only describe as gentle. When you open one of her books, she takes you by the hand and leads you through her story in a way that makes it almost impossible to put the book down. She has a lot to say here about family, and what that word means. Inside of that there is a lot about the relationship between mothers and daughters, and the expectations within. There are many tightropes being walked and eggshells walked upon as these three women figure out how to navigate their new lives.

There is a nice amount of tension throughout the book, but for me it doesn’t quite reach the level of “thriller”, as mentioned in the blurb. That may be because I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers, so my expectations are a bit different than others. Also, on a personal note, once I got a chapter or two into the book I realized how refreshing it is to read a book where the main characters have normal names. Just “Laura” and “Beth”, solidly traditional. Not a misplaced “y” or boy’s nickname or extra “i” to be found anywhere. Another testament to the strength of Thornton’s writing — no gimmicks necessary. ( )
  miyurose | May 21, 2012 |
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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 18-year-old Willow, a care-leaver with a dubious past. Is Willow dangerous or just vulnerable? Is it possible she was once guilty of arson? Her mother's hippy life is gradually revealed as something more sinister; and Beth is in trouble as shcool and out of it. Laura's carefully ordered world seems to be getting out of control.… (more)

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