GEH Wellbeing Reading Group review for Pine by Francine Toon

This debut novel was billed as a literary gothic thriller to chill the marrow. So, did it deliver for our wellbeing reading group at George Eliot hospital? Kind of yes, kind of no. It was a novel that divided the group a little, with some thumbs up, some thumbs down and quite a few wavering in the middle.

The book tells the tale of a young girl, Lauren and her father Niall, who lost their wife and mother 10 years previously. They live in the spookily rendered Highlands of Scotland, in a small village next to a pine forest. They start by picking up a lost woman on the road on Halloween, but the next day she’s disappeared. Niall is still struggling with his wife’s disappearance and drinks heavily. Lauren struggles with bullying, her Dad’s silence and turns to tarot cards and spells for help. Later in the book there’s another disappearance, lots of closed mouths and locked doors and a claustrophobic atmosphere.

Our group found some aspects of the book difficult- the descriptions of skinning a rabbit were hard for some to read, but others thought they were appropriate for the community being described. We found the language a little too descriptive at times, with an abundance of adjectives, and a strange present tense narrative which sometimes didn’t flow. On the other hand several of our readers found they preferred to read the book in the daylight, so the gothic atmosphere did its job!

As ever our discussions were wide ranging. We thought the book would make an excellent TV series, with lots of shadows, trees and fog. We read about the author writing this first novel whilst working, and wondered if that had had an effect on the book. We definitely all thought the ending felt rushed, maybe a deadline was looming in the Scottish mists! We felt for Niall and Lauren, and discussed the nature of living in a remote Scottish village, and how that would bring the characters that much closer to nature and old ways of living. My lightbulb moment came when we were thinking about the book’s title- obviously there were the pine trees, there was a link to a name of a main character, but also the idea that Niall in particular was pining for his lost wife.  

A change of pace for our next book, we’ll be reading The Appeal by Janice Hallett. It was the Sunday Time crime book of the year and also won the New Blood Dagger award. It has an unusual format, with the content presented as a series of evidence to two law students assigned to solve the mystery of a death in the sleepy town of Lower Lockwood. Intrigued? Contact the Library to borrow a copy and join us as we turn amateur sleuth and discuss the book in the new year.

Find out more about our Wellbeing Reading Groups including the dates of the next reading groups, or check out our previous book reviews.

Happy reading!