This book would have done better as a short story. It has the makings of a good yarn, but it draws things out much too long. If kept clean and simple, it would have been much more effective.
In 1952, a young woman, newly married, takes up a worn, dingy apartment with her husband. He insists their stay will be brief, while they save up enough money to move elsewhere. Young Isabel does her best to be patient and amuse herself while home alone. But her imagination and paranoia start to take over. The landlady, who lives upstairs, paces at all hours of the night, and keeps the house too cold. Isabel is convinced the lady is trying to drive her mad. Isabel’s husband, a doctor, is a rational man of science and does his best to calm her irrational fears, but his late night calls do little to help the situation.
One frigid night, Isabel finds an RAF coat, stuffed in a crevice in the wall of the decrepit flat. She uses it to keep herself warm at night, but she has opened up a portal to a time when Yorkshire was home to an airfield, when the skies were filled with Lancasters going on air raids and flight crews counted down the missions until they could go home. She begins to get visitations (ghostly, or perhaps imagined?), from a pilot. Is she just starved for attention? Or is she really seeing and speaking to this man?
As I said, this would have done much better as a short story. Elements of madness, ghosts, and unhappy characters made for some strong possibilities, but they were diluted by the word count. Any punch they might have packed were drawn down by giving the reader too much time to think about it.
I should mention that this book was published by Hammer, a new wing of the famed Hammer Films. In that regard, this book fits perfectly. There is enough to keep the reader turning the page, but no reason to return to it later.
Thank you to Hammer for sending me the review copy.
February 2, 2012 (UK – Hardback)
August 30, 2012 (UK – Paperback)
Written by: Helen Dunmore
One thought on “THE GREATCOAT by Helen Dunmore”
Often with novels nowadays I wish the writing had just been tightened up a bit- would rather read more concisely with greater impact.