Rosy Thornton, Ninepins (2012)

Cambridge academic Laura Blackwood and her twelve-year-old daughter Beth live in Ninepins, a former tollhouse build atop a dyke out in the fens. To help make ends meet, Laura has been renting out the adjoining old pumphouse. As the novel begins, her latest tenant arrives: Willow Tyler, a seventeen-year-old care-leaver. Laura is wary of taking Willow on, because she’s younger than previous tenant, and there are whispers of arson in her past – but she wants to give the girl a chance, and Social Services will pay more rent than would a private tenant. But the subsequent months bring problems with the weather,Willow’s estranged mother, and Beth and her friends.

The sense of place is vivid in Rosy Thornton’s new novel – the damp atmosphere of the fens and the remoteness of Ninepins come straight off the page. The dislocated setting provides a fitting background and mirror to the story: Laura starts to feel increasingly distanced from Beth, who’s now getting into trouble in ways she never previously did; and Willow is trying (though not always succeeding) to leave her mother behind. Besides this, the whole book moves along nicely, all adding up to an engaging read.

Rosy Thornton’s website
Thornton writes about the novel on Sally Zigmond’s blog
Some other reviews of Ninepins: A Bookish Affair; Book Dilettante; Kate Phillips for For Books’ Sake.

Nikita Lalwani, The Village (2012)

Anglo-Indian director Ray Bhullar arrives at the Indian village of Ashwer to make a documentary for the BBC. Ashwer’s inhabitants are mostly ordinary folk, but for one detail: a member of each family has killed someone. This village is an open prison, whose inmates are allowed to live with their families; it’s had no reoffenders, and only one (unsuccessful) escape attempt. Ray’s aim is to make a film that will allow her British audience to appreciate the people of Ashwer as they really are; but her white colleagues – producer Serena and (ex-offender) presenter Nathan – are not quite so noble-minded.

The ethics of documentary-making are at the centre of Nikita Lalwani’s second novel, as Ray tries to find the balance between telling a good story and not exploiting her subjects. It’s no easy task, because she finds herself inadvertently getting closer to certain villagers than she’d intended. And Ray’s own ethical sense is not entirely clear-cut – she’d love to be able to film people completely candidly, but that would mean not having their consent. Lalwani documents the thorny tangle of these issues, building up to a couple of tense set-pieces at novel’s end.

Running in parallel with this is Ray’s personal struggle with herself – her sense that, despite her Indian heritage, she may not fit in with the culture of Ashwer as much as she’d thought. It adds another layer of complexity to a novel which ends in a resolution which feels as much a compromise on Ray’s part as a step forward for her.

Nikita Lalwani’s website
Interview with Lalwani at The Asian Writer
Some other reviews of The Village: Maia Nikitina for Bookmunch; Laura Reading Books; Arifa Akbar for the Independent.