The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore


“It is the winter of 1952, and Isabel Carey is struggling to adjust to the realities of married life in Yorkshire.

Isolated and lonely, she is also intensely cold. And her husband – a doctor – is rarely home.

And then one night she discovers an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard. She puts it on her bed for warmth – and is startled by a knock at her window.

Outside is a young man. A pilot.

And he wants to come in…”

This was a book I found in a charity shop as part of my reading challenge. I’m about to start on Gothic literature at school and was given a Gothic reading list to make my way through with books such as Frankenstein and the Woman in Black somewhere among the titles. I was rooting through the charity shop’s bookshelves when I came across this. I’m not normally one for ghost stories, but I felt that I should try and get in the Gothic mood.

I have to say, I was expecting The Greatcoat to be scarier. I’ve read a book before that made me extremely jumpy for a while, but this book evoked a completely different emotion for me. There were no jumpy moments or sudden scary events to speak of, but throughout the book a sense of foreboding gradually built up as I read on. There was never an intense sense of fear that occurred on the spur of a moment, it was much a more subtle brand of fear but just as effective.

It was quite a creepy book and a very effective ghost story. I liked how the ghost seemed to attack all of the senses (rather than just sight and sound) as normally in ghost stories you only see glimpses of phantoms before something dramatic happens and they disappear. I guess what made me feel so uneasy when reading this was how Dunmore made the ghost seem so real!

The book almost had me convinced in places that the pilot was real, such was the confusion between Isabel’s life and the Pilot’s life. I admit that on several occasions I mentally shouted at Isabel not to follow the ghost, not to do this or that ect. but I think we all experience that feeling of annoyance at characters when they do something stupid. But then again, without those silly characters, there wouldn’t be any stories at all and all books would be boring.

The book touched on the position of women after the war. Isabel was expected to be ‘the doctor’s wife’ and nothing more. In the village, she was treated without kindness as she was a newcomer and when she expressed her wishes to do something other than be a housewife, he loving, caring husband turned his nose up and said he would rather provide for her. It was nice to see that her husband cared for her, but I think her discontentment with her situation laid the perfect grounding for the ghost story as she was so desperate for something to happen that she was overly curious.

The ending was tense and there was no sense of relief at the end. I still feel slightly uneasy about the whole book which I suppose is the feeling the author was hoping to create.

It was an interesting read which I would recommend.

4/5 rating.


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An aspiring cellist, I absolutely adore reading, and even if it means squeezing it into the cracks of my busy life I am still determined to read more! For me, a truly great novel isn't just flashy with a fast paced plot and glossy characters, it is good literature that traps you with every word and entices you to read on. I write quick-to-read book reviews on CreativeThoughtBubble, as well as occasionally publishing short stories of my own.

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