20th May, 2020

Review: Pine by Francine Toon (Transworld publishing)

Fracine Toon’s debut novel Pine is a book that you will not forget easily. This is a book written with wonderful gothic undertones, but with a fresh take on established notions of genre. Set in a remote area of Scotland where the next supermarket is 23 miles away, it tells the story of Lauren, her dad Niall and her mother Christine who’s been missing for these last ten years. Rumours abound in this little village in the Highlands and while people are still very much in touch with their traditions and histories, they also fear the possible truth behind their myths.

This book gave me the creeps. It started out a bit slow with elaborate descriptions of how Lauren and her friend go guising on All Hallow’s Eve but it picks up soon after when Lauren and her dad meet a strange woman stumbling onto a remote country road. Mysterious events follow, people see the “white woman” but forget about her the second she disappears. Only Lauren and an old woman who many consider a witch can remember her. Houses becomes inexplicably damp, weird smells of rot pervade messy rooms that are suddenly tidied up. Then a girl goes missing and prejudices, gossip and suspicions begin to take over the small community.

I loved Toon’s ability to create an atmosphere that is both comforting and chilling at the same time. This story is about parenthood and about what it means to protect your children. At the same time, it touches on the most debased notions of humanity and drags them out of the woods – quite literally speaking, considering the branch found by a dog in the story that turned out to be a human arm. At the centre of all of this sits Lauren, wondering about her mother while her father falls apart and the village dynamics turn increasingly off kilter. The eeriness that pervades the pages is almost tangible but never quite so. You can nearly smell the pines and feel the cold, damp wind on your face while reading as Toon manages to draw the reader into the story through this strong sense of place. The setting of this book is beautiful and claustrophobic at the same time. It is a place you want to be and not want to be in. It is a place of secrets but also of community. It is a place where you think nothing bad can happen and still one where that seems entirely possible. It is a place of ambiguities.

Toon’s edgy writing and the somewhat disjointed but deliciously haunting plot kept me awake at night as I just had to know what would happen. The finale of the book then is heart wrenching but it is also simply perfect. My verdict: fresh, observant, uncanny, brilliant. I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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