Saturday, 24 December 2016

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore
Published in the UK by Hammer on the 2nd February 2012.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Windows

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the winter of 1952, Isabel Carey moves to the East Riding of Yorkshire with her husband Philip, a GP. With Philip spending long hours on call, Isabel finds herself isolated and lonely as she strives to adjust to the realities of married life. Woken by intense cold one night, she discovers an old RAF greatcoat hidden in the back of a cupboard. Sleeping under it for warmth, she starts to dream. And not long afterwards, while her husband is out, she is startled by a knock at her window. Outside is a young RAF pilot, waiting to come in. His name is Alec, and his powerful presence both disturbs and excites her. Her initial alarm soon fades, and they begin an intense affair. But nothing has prepared her for the truth about Alec's life, nor the impact it will have on hers.

My friend Marta lent me her copy of The Greatcoat and I am transferring its review over to Literary Flits today because I think it is a perfect chilly ghost story for Christmas Eve. I read the whole book practically in one sitting and think it really should have been published as a novella rather than a 239 page novel because there are such wide margins that I found myself turning pages ridiculously fast! If you've already finished all your Christmas wrapping, settle down with this book!

The Greatcoat is set in a small 1950s East Riding community. Reminders of the War are everywhere yet the people have frequently chosen to look ahead rather than back. It is not so much a case of forgetting the horrors and loss of wartime, as simply choosing to spend as little time as possible remembering. Into this community come Philip and Isabel, the new doctor and his wife; he eager to throw himself into his new professional life, she encouraged to turn away from her qualifications and settle instead for lonely domesticity. Even without the supernatural aspect which pervades every page, Dunmore has written an insightful description of the weird normality of Isabel's life that would have made a good book on its own. Instead, we also begin to glimpse another woman's life, through Isabel's eyes, when she inadvertently opens the door to a ghost.

I love how Dunmore evokes all the senses in her writing. Alec's ghost is not just seen, but smelt, heard and touched. Tension is heightened by the landlady's perpetual pacing overhead. The supernatural begins to seem more real than reality. Timeshifts are wonderfully handled and I would not be surprised to see The Greatcoat turned into an amazing film (is it already?).

Etsy Find!
by Lex Vintage Box in
Rivne, Ukraine

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Books by Helen Dunmore / Horror fiction / Books from England


  1. This does like an interesting ghost story that would make a great Christmas Eve read! The insight into Isabel's love sounds neat too. I had never heard of this, thanks for putting it on my radar!

    1. I love Helen Dunmore's ideas! I hope you enjoy reading this one

  2. This sounds like the kind of novel which wraps you up in the story because the writer manages to make the world just that real and realistic. I have read books by this author before, so I am familiar with how she does that. Gotta read this one too!

    1. I think this was my first Helen Dunmore book and I loved her writing. Must seek out more!