Monday 7 March 2022

, , , , ,

Review: Pine by Francine Toon

A photo of Pine by Francine Toon, half on a wool cream scarf, half on a dark grey, fluffy duvet cover. The book is at an angle so the top of the book faces the top right corner, and the bottom faces the bottom left corner. The book is surrounded by various objects; in a clockwise direction from the top right, there's a pillar candle, a single tarot card, face down, a clear quartz crystal cluster, a bundle of yarrow twigs, two tarot cards, face down, overlapping each other, and a rough blue calcite crystal.

Links with an asterisk (*) are Ad: Affiliate Links, which means if you make a purchase through them, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Pine by Francine Toon

Published: 1st October 2020 | Publisher: Black Swan Ireland | Source: Bought
Francine Toon’s Website

They are driving home from the search party when they see her. The trees are coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men.

Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she's gone.

In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren's mother a decade ago.

Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father's turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when a local teenager goes missing, it's no longer clear who she can trust.

In spare, haunting prose, Francine Toon creates an unshakeable atmosphere of desolation and dread. In a place that feels like the end of the world, she unites the gloom of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller. It is the perfect novel for our haunted times.
From The StoryGraph.

Purchase from*
The StoryGraph | Goodreads

Pine by Francine Toon was recommended to me by a friend for the 12 Challenge (read 12 books recommended by 12 friends in 12 months), and I was really intrigued. A mysterious woman who just disappears, a missing teenager, and a 10-year-old child for a narrator. It wasn't quite the story I expected, but I really, really enjoyed it!

Had a friend not recommended Pine to me, I don't think it's one I would have come across on my own, let alone decide to read it; reading mainly YA and fantasy, it's not a story that would be on my radar. But it was so good! Pine is very much a slow burner thriller; it's mysterious and intriguing, but in the great scheme of things, not a huge amount happens. There's the strange, silent woman, hurt and in a dirty white dressing gown who keeps appearing, that everyone seems to forget the existence of once she's out of sight, except for Lauren. There are the questions Lauren has about her mum, Christine, who is longer around. And then there's the panic and uncertainty when a teenager goes missing. Even though it's a slow burner, it's a very quick read; while it's 320 pages long, the font is quite big, and there's a lot of space in the margins, so you fly through it.

I love the way the story is told. It's a dual narration from the perspective of 10-year-old Lauren and her alcoholic dad, Niall. There are certain things that you don't discuss with or in front of children, so there are things Lauren simply doesn't know. With Niall, we have an unreliable narrator; when it comes to Lauren's mother, Christine, he simply won't talk about her, and tries not to think about her, too. All we know is she's no longer in their lives, and it's led Niall to alcoholism, which adds to his unreliability, because he forget things that happen when he's very drunk. So there are all these questions, things the adults of the village know, but we just don't get any answers. It's so well written, and I loved being with Lauren's narration; Toon has done such a great job of getting into the mind of a child, while also not making the story feel like a book for children - which it absolutely isn't. Toon also manages to create an unsettling and foreboding atmosphere with the setting. It's such a small village they live in, with just four houses and Lauren and Niall's house a bit further away, and they're right by a forest. They're not completely shut off, but there is the sense of isolation. The forest itself feels like a character, the floor carpeted in pine needles silencing everything, hiding secrets, confusing and trapping those who stray off the path. So it's not completely surprising when a woman appears out of nowhere, and seems to vanish in thin air. But with everyone forgetting her as soon as she's gone, Lauren is so confused as to what's happening, who she is, why she keeps appearing and disappearing, why people are forgetting.

Then there's the disappearance of her mother. For a long time, it's left open as to what the situation is, all Lauren knows is she's gone. But what does that mean? Did she leave? Did she die? Did she go missing? We don't know. But what we do know is that Lauren and her father are treated differently. There are looks and whispers. Lauren knows there are rumours, but she doesn't know what they are. And she's horribly bullied at school because of it. The bullying really upset me and made me cry, it's just so awful. That poor girl, who doesn't know anything, doesn't understand, and is being treated so badly. And she doesn't say anything to her dad, because he's not really there, even when he's physically in the house. I wouldn't go so far as to say she's neglected in the abusive sense, but he definitely checks out quite a lot. I just felt so sorry for her.

What I loved is how Lauren tries to keep a connection to her mum in secret. She only just remembers her, but her mum was into the occult, and read tarot and cast spells. Lauren has her book, a notebook that has obviously been passed down through generations, and added to, on witchcraft and tarot. Lauren pours over this book, and has learnt so many things. She reads tarot herself, experienced enough to be able to use playing cards when she doesn't have her own with her, and casts her own little spells. It's a way for her to feel close to her mum, but it also gives her a sense of control. She's doing something, she's trying to get answers somehow. It's also not a joke, there's no sense of Toon laughing at Lauren, a silly little girl with her fantasies, of even her mother. There is respect there, and as someone who practices, I really appreciate it, and it's inclusion.

I felt Pine ended a little abruptly; we get out answers, but we don't see much of the consequences. We get told things, but we don't see them. I would have liked there to have been a conversation between certain characters. I just wanted to know why, to have an explanation, beyond the obvious. But Pine is such a captivating story, slow and quiet, atmospheric and unsettling. I absolutely adored it! And I'm really looking forward to seeing what Toon writes next!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider following / supporting me:
Bloglovin' | Twitter | Goodreads | StoryGraph | Ko-Fi


Post a Comment