Lauren and her father Niall live alone in a small village in the Scottish Highlands. One Halloween night a young woman stumbles out into the road, Niall drives her back to their house, gives her food and a bed for the night. In the morning, she’s gone and only Lauren remembers seeing her. Is this linked to the disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade prior or something much darker?
Pine is a wonderfully rich and memorable tale about dealing with grief and loss, the importance of communication, and that the truth will eventually come out. Francine Toon’s debut novel was a genuine delight that hooked me straight from the off.
Her writing flows wonderfully, transporting me to the barren yet beautiful Highlands and the close-knit community that call’s it home. The chief character Lauren was brilliant, dealing with the strange circumstances and mysteries that surround her brief life in a way that felt fresh and well-written.
While the juxtaposition between Lauren and Niall helped to give the story, an uncomfortable calm that left you in the knowledge that something big is on a collision course with this little family. An astute young girl hoping to discover more about her past and a father left damaged by the disappearance of his wife. Knowing full-well that his attempts to bottle everything up and hide things is causing him to be a bath parent, yet finding it difficult to change or do a better job.
“My mum.’ The images of death are involuntary and relentless: crushed snail shells, veins in meat, vampire teeth, soil filling a mouth.”
― Francine Toon, Pine
If anything, the supernatural elements and talk of witchcraft take a backseat, which is a shame as I would have loved the story to have delved deeper into the mystery and the magic that surrounds those woods however, the only downside I found with Pine was the abrupt ending that.
There was room for an extra chapter to explain fully the events that surrounded both disappearances, what caused the supernatural events to start when they did and going forward, how it affects characters you’ve grown to love. Overall Pine is a superb debut from the clearly skilled Francine Toon, and I can’t wait to see what she produces next.