[Review] Pine (2020)
Pine – Set in a small village in the middle of the haunting Scottish Highlands, a strange disappearance of a mother has cast a shadow over the lives of the residents. Lauren, a 10-year-old girl, lives with her father Niall, a shadow of his former self who has spells of drunkenness and depression ever since his wife Christine disappeared. Lauren tries to find the clues that could lead to the mystery surrounding her mother’s conundrum and the healing of her family. Strange occurrences, insecurity, and bullying for being different form a terrifying spiral for young Lauren.
I simply adore dark unsettling stories and this book was definitely in that category. It is filled with memorable and realistic characters and is written in a most excellent, haunting and moving prose. I was completely amazed by the richness of this world, of the characters and of the settings within. The author really knew how to set the scenes beautifully with her vivid descriptions and details of the small Highland village, which also had some very interesting inhabitants, to say the least.
Set in northern Scotland in a small village surrounded by miles and miles of dense pine forest, ‘Pine’ has an ancient feel as it’s set in a place where fairies and selkies roam freely and folklore mingles with reality. Right from the very beginning, we are thrown into an intriguing, dark mystery, and a very real, very deep story of a family that has lost its way in life, and of a community that is divided between pity, cruelty and disturbing secrets. It will have you checking over your shoulder and wary to expect the unexpected because you are certain that danger is close yet its source is impossible to understand.
The novel opens on a Halloween night when on their way home after an evening out “guising” (aka trick-or-treating), 10-year-old Lauren and her father, Niall, come across a strange and mysterious, white-gowned woman stumbling onto the road in front of them. The father decides to take her home with them so they could help her, but when the following morning approaches the woman has vanished, and Lauren notices that her father seems to have no memory what-so-ever of the event. This also sets in motion Lauren’s discovery of the secrets that her father and the other adults in the town have kept from her.
Lauren doesn’t remember her mother, Christine, as she died after she was born. Lauren is also harshly bullied at school and branded as the daughter of a Witch. Christine might have actually been a witch, or at least a healer, as she was into alternative remedies, medicines, crystal healing, and fortune-telling, especially Tarot. So it does not wonder that in secret, Lauren is teaching herself spells and tarot reading from one of her mother’s journals as her way of coping with a harsh and dangerous world and to try and connect with her mother’s spirit to discover the secret behind her mysterious disappearance.
Throughout the story, there are sightings of a woman in a white nightgown and her visitations to several people in the little village. But the strange problem with this is that none of them can ever remember her visits or seeing her, all but Lauren. Suddenly, the disappearance of the local teenager, Ann-Marie, and under unusual circumstances, the finger of blame seems to be pointing at Niall which now makes him look even more guilty for Christine’s disappearance.
I feel Lauren’s relationship with her father is a difficult one due to his own struggle to come to terms with being on his own with a young child to raise. I often wanted to slap some damn sense into him so that he would give more of himself to his lonely little girl. Her heart begs to learn more about her mother, but Niall just won’t bring himself to talk about her. It’s apparent he has been badly affected by her disappearance, as he drinks way too much, always stays out late and even expects their neighbors to look after, and most of the time, to feed Lauren.
Basically, Pine alternates between each person’s perspectives as history threaten to repeat itself when a local girl goes missing in a similar situation to Lauren’s mother. Stone circles and long-lost items begin appearing all around town. And as the townspeople race to find the missing girl, dark secrets and spirits from the past threaten to reappear and tear the isolated community apart for good.
The ending was no doubt perfect, emotional and raw, and an actual surprise to the person that was to blame, I totally didn’t see that one coming. This was a debut for the author, who managed to write a genre-crossing book with amazing gothic undertones. I loved all the characters, and could easily relate and feel for them, even Lauren’s father, to be honest. The story gave me strange and surreal dreams that I could not rid myself of for hours after they awoke me, but even at that, I was still anxious to pick it back up again the very next day.
Overall I thought this was an amazing and captivating read, one that I easily to get lost in for hours at a time. The inclusion of the legends, the things that dwelled in the dark forest, the maddening mystery and witchcraft were all truly interesting and gave the story a very creepy, gothic feel. A beautifully written story that sets a haunting, evocative scene to tell a story that weaves all the Scottish folklore and mysticism into one. I loved how the story managed to frighten me, but leave me so emotional at the same time, and one that I continue to think about even now.
I highly recommended you read this one, you will definitely be missing out if not.
About the Book Author
Francine Toon grew up in Sutherland and Fife, Scotland. Her poetry, written as Francine Elena, has appeared in The Sunday Times, The Best British Poetry 2013 and 2015 anthologies (Salt) and Poetry London, among other places. Pine was longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award. She lives in London and works in publishing. You can learn more about Francine on her Twitter page – https://twitter.com/FrancineElena
Author: Francine Toon
Published Date: January 21, 2020
Genre: Horror, Fiction, Ghost Story
Pages: 288 pages
Reviewed by: Kathryn Price
Our Rating: 4.0 /5
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