Pine by Francine Toon
Publication date: 23 January 2020
Genre: Contemporary fiction/horror
Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
This is a spoiler-free review
If you’ve been around here for long, you may realise that Pine is not the kind of book I typically pick up — I tend to lean toward science fiction and fantasy rather than contemporary-set books. However, I was drawn in by its stunning cover and mysterious description. I took a chance and bought a copy and I’m so thrilled I did! Pine is a gorgeous, literary ghost story that will make the hair on the back of your neck rise.
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 local teenager Ann-Marie 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.
I don’t want to say too much about this haunting tale because Pine is one of those books that is best to go into blind, however I will say that I absolutely loved every single thing about it. The writing is lovely (Toon previously wrote poetry and it shows), the characterisation is fantastic, and it’s so atmospheric and gorgeous. In fact, Toon creates such a wonderful sense of place in Pine and I think that is one of the best qualities of the book.
The book is split into several points of view, however Lauren — our 10-year-old protaganist who is wise beyond her years — is the most dominant character and I absolutely loved reading her point of view. In many ways she is just an ordinary kid, but she also is trying to cope with the loss of her mother and her father’s alcoholism. She is an incredibly well fleshed out character and has such a strong voice. While this book’s light supernatural elements drew me in, Lauren’s experiences growing up in rural Scotland in a mistrustful community were captivating.
I will say that while it hooked me right away, Pine does have a bit of a slow burning plot — it’s absolutely a book that picks up toward the end but has a more meandering start. However, I was pulled in right away and I couldn’t put it down –I read Pine in two sittings and was left wanting more. If you’re looking for an intriguing, haunting read, you should absolutely pick up a copy of Pine for your winter reading. It is undoubtedly one of my favourite books of the year!
Want to try Pine for yourself? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):