There are very few authors I've read that can write a compelling, reality-based account of life as well as Rosy Thornton. I'm happy to say that Ninepins, her newest effort, not only met my expectations produced by her previous works, but far, far exceeded them.
Ninepins is the name of Laura Blackwood's former toll-house home in the fens surrounding Cambridge. While named after a place which is beautifully described by Ms. Thornton, the book's emphasis is on the human element tied to the house and its surroundings. Laura is a university researcher, divorced from Simon, and mother to 12 year old Beth. Beth also suffers from periodic bouts of asthma. Near to Ninepins is a pumphouse that has been re-done over the years, and Laura has sublet it out (for extra income) to students in the past. When a man and a young girl come to look at the pumphouse, Laura assumes they are father and daughter. The truth is different however, and Willow, a seventeen year old just coming out of foster care, becomes Laura's new tenant.
There are so many threads and themes running through what seems at first to be a simple, mother-daughter story. There is the tension in Laura's relationship with her daughter, who is pulling against her traces and trying to stretch her independence to sometimes untenable positions. There is Laura's unwillingness to let her daughter spread her wings just a little, and in so doing, adds to Beth's tendency to revolt. There's the burgeoning relationship between Beth and Willow, as well as Beth's relationship to her friends at her new school (what we would call middle school here in the States). There's the dichotomy between Laura and Beth's relationship and that of Willow's to Marianne, her own mother, which sometimes leads Willow to look at Beth as a spoiled princess of a child who doesn't quite know how lucky she is. There is Laura's relationship with Willow, one that is forced upon both of them when Willow must move into the main house. On top of all this, we have Vince, Willow's social worker. What do we think of him? Was he fair to Laura in bringing Willow into her home, knowing her history? How does Laura reconcile this at the end after everything that has happened? And ultimately, what really is the definition of "family?"
Ms. Thornton has written a gem of a story. On its surface, Ninepins is as calm as the water surrounding the actual house, but like the fens and the water running in the lode, it doesn't take much to stir up the bottom and turn the story into a floodwater of emotion, passion and substance. Ninepins is a must-read for any contemporary fiction fan. It is every day life but better; richer somehow owing to the author's wonderfully descriptive writing skills. These are life sized characters with life sized stories that somehow become larger than life. They will stay with you long past the turning of the last page. Rosy Thornton makes them entirely believable and truly unforgettable.