It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted and as I am sure many of you guessed, going back to school after the Easter break was like being hit by a train again. So I apologise for the gap in between posts. I’ve been marking a lot and only just barely functioning really. At least I’ve had a restful weekend before the next week of fun… I thought I’d use my Sunday night in the best possible way and share with you all the book I chose to read for my reading challenge this month. The theme of this month was: Read a book with a one word title. Now, this was trickier than I originally had thought. However, I managed to find a sneaky little book that has been sat on my bookcase for a while. I picked it up because I loved the cover and I bought it because I loved the premise. Pine by Francine Toon did not disappoint. (If you’d like anymore details on my reading challenge, as always you can click here.)
What’s it all about?
Set in the Highlands of Scotland, the novel centres around the broken and dysfunctional family of ten year old Lauren and her alcoholic father, Niall. Following the disappearance of Lauren’s mother, Christine, the family appear to be sunk into an existence where each day starts and ends without ever really being lived. Lauren’s life is full of ten year old concerns: her friends and enemies at school, who she will play with and roam the Highland Moors and woodlands with. However, she also has to deal with a home that is cold, damp and ramshackle – a place where her father is often absent, either working or drinking. There is no real sense of privacy here as the local community knows each other and are always involved in each other’s business. Therefore, Lauren has a number of people who look out for her.
‘He said he would build her a treehouse, but he never has. Now he buries all thoughts and potential for thoughts. He has become quite skilled at this over the years.’
On Halloween evening, following an evening of guising (trick or treating), Lauren and Niall come across a strange woman, in the road, dressed only in a white dressing gown. They decide to take her to the safety of their home. The next morning she has vanished. Do they know who she is? Why is she alone in the road? It becomes clear that Lauren has the potential for understanding supernatural events. She uses tarot cards and has a sixth sense for the unseen world. Christine, Lauren’s mother, was an alternative healer and filled the house with healing crystals, salt lamps and often made Niall uncomfortable with her talk of auras and cleansing. As we progress though the novel, the circumstances of her disappearance become murky. The people of the town all throw their suspicions towards Niall. Although no one will discuss anything with Lauren.
“Some girls were talking and it made me wonder. Where do you think my mum went?” ‘Lauren’s words rush out like water. She seems Ann-Marie go still as she continues.’ “I once asked Kirsty about it, but she said I have to ask my dad and my dad doesna want to talk about it.”
As the novel progresses, the deterioration of Niall increases. Holding everything inside, he continues to work as a carpenter until one day, the years of repression come bursting out in a fit of rage and aggression. When he returns to his senses, the cabinet he was removing from the wall is in splintered pieces by his feet and his horrified GP client is standing in the doorway clearly terrified of him. Niall carries with him a sense of total sadness and potential for explosive outbursts. He knows he is failing as a father but is unable to open up to any of the people around him who try to help.
‘It’s come apart now but he keeps hacking, because it feels too good.’ “Absolute fucking bastard.” ‘He is stamping on wood and tearing plaster, his arms and hands catching against splinters.’
The woman in the white dressing gown is seen repeatedly but no one can remember seeing her after she has gone. All sense of reality is questioned. Strange events happen, rings of stones and rocks, fetid rotten smells and breaths of icy cold air all begin to manifest in and around the people of this remote Highland town. Eventually things come to a head with the disappearance of another local girl. The last person to see her: Niall. Of course, he was drunk…
“As I’ve said before, people talk a lot here, Niall. A lot. Not just the internet, it’s wherever you go. They’ve been telling me you knew her. And people seem to know a lot about you too. Your past.”
The novel rushes to a shocking and unnerving conclusion. Lauren is convinced that the supernatural is at play although her spell to protect her from the bullies at school failed to do just that. By the end of the novel, it is still unclear as to whether or not Lauren has a gift. Is it a childish fancy or does she have hidden talent? It is left to the reader to make their own judgement as to what is real and what is not. Her mother wanted her to be wild and throughout the novel there is a sense of wildness as she roams the dark, pine forests and damp moorlands. This is not the childhood of a normal girl. Everything we know is questioned and challenged.
This book was a funny one for me. I definitely know I didn’t dislike it. It’s a book that grapples with our own emotions. It’s written in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable as you read it. That being said, you do feel that things will be better by the end. It’s a book that is very hard to categorise but it is a chilling read. Part of me wishes I’d read it over the Halloween period – just to get into the spooky mood. It’s exceptionally well written because it makes the reader imagine, even if you’re not wanting to. You’re forced down this path and the only way to get off is to keep reading. In that sense, only utter exhaustion made me put it down. It’s a book that has left me with more questions than answers. Despite it being a one word title book, it is multilayered, complex and explores a variety of themes. Its simple title is a mask for the gravity of what is inside.