The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore
|The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore|
|Reviewer: Robin Leggett|
|Summary: Helen Dunmore turns her hand to the ghostly in this short novella set in 1950s post-war Yorkshire.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 208||Date: February 2012|
|External links: Author's website|
Richard and Judy Book Club Autumn 2012
Set in 1952 in Yorkshire, a young couple move into a rented flat. Philip is the new, young doctor while his new wife Isabel struggles with the isolated life with no friends or family and Philip's frequent absence due to the demands of his job. Things take a turn to the spooky when, waking from under the warmth of the old greatcoat Isabel finds in the flat, she hears a tapping at the window and finds there an RAF pilot, Alec, who appears to know Isabel intimately.
Ghost stories are not what you might expect from Helen Dunmore and this novella has her characteristic intelligence and strong writing. The central plot structure, of which I can of course not reveal, is very clever and the ending is suitably satisfying. However, the reader is left confused for much of the short book about time-frames (without giving too much away, we switch between 1952 and World War 2) and the brevity of the book doesn't allow for much beyond the basic characterization facts of the protagonists.
Of course some of the reader's confusion is justified in the sense that Isabel herself is equally confused, although her fascination with Alec overrides any great questioning on her part. It is of course ridiculous to expect a ghost story to fit with reality, but there are certain areas where Isabel appears rather too accepting of strange events.
Dunmore effectively captures the haunting feeling of the story but my sense was that we see rather too much of the workings of the story rather than getting a sense that the story develops organically. I could always see the author's hand at work in driving the story forward. This isn't an altogether bad thing when that author is someone of Dunmore's calibre, but I never felt caught up with Isabel's plight although the story itself is compelling and clever. I just felt a bit too distanced from it.
Despite feeling ahead of Isabel with large parts of the story, the ending though was unexpected and even quite moving. As a brief, very well constructed ghostly novella, it ticks all the boxes, but probably as much due to the length of the book as anything, it isn't as involving as I would have liked.
Our thanks to the kind people at Hammer (yes, those very people who brought us the scary films) for inviting us to review this book.
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