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3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars
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on 7 November 2016
To be honest, the cover probably is the thing that got me to buy the book. Sure, the blurb about a time slip, an RAF ghost, and a mystery did help, but I can't help it, I absolutely love that cover. So, it is with a bit of a heavy heart that I write this review. It's not like the book is bad, it's just not so fantastic that I hoped it to be.

I did like the story, I just did not love it. I found the premise of the story intriguing and it started off good. But, looking back to reading the book do I have to admit that I did not really fall for the story. I wonder if it had been better if it had been more to the story. It's not a thick book, it just takes a couple of hours to read the book. So, everything moved forward rather quickly, getting to know Isabel and the rest of the characters, meeting the ghost, learning the truth and then the end. And, sure, it's a tragic truth, but I never really got to know Alec, and I thought that was a miss. It would have been wonderful to have learned more about him through flashbacks. Rather than just the first chapter and then through ghostly recollections. I wanted to be moved by the book, but that never happened.

It's a so-so book. I liked it, but if feels like it had potential that never was achieved.
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It is 1952 and Isabel, recently married to a staid young doctor, is lonely and isolated. She finds an abandoned RAF greatcoat which she lays on her bed to keep her warm in the chilly, converted flat - and is soon woken up by a mysterious tapping on the window...

I have mixed reactions to Dunmore: I think she's an intelligent and often very elegant writer but I have frequently felt her books to be emotionally-cold and lacking in true emotion - this one proves me gloriously wrong. Atmospheric, and gorgeously melancholy, this is a desolate and yet somehow intensely romantic read. Feelings of inconsolability, fear and forlornness ooze from these pages, and the shifting between the war-time air base and its abandoned, ruined self in the 1950s is achieved with great poignancy.

If you're looking for a `horror' story or chilling ghost tale, this isn't really it - there's nothing frightening here in a supernatural sense. This may be short but it is perfectly-formed, and carries an emotional weight belied by the number of pages. I loved this - highly recommended.
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on 11 July 2014
This book has occupied my thoughts since I read it. Now I want to read more by this author. I must have read and re-read it three times and each time a new piece of the jigsaw has slotted in. It's a very clever book on many levels but don't take it as one hilarious review I read did ' Fancy shagging a ghost!'
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on 8 April 2013
A proper old-fashioned ghost story, beautifully understated writing with interesting characters and no melodrama. I couldn't put it down. Highly recommended. Cheap too!
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on 21 September 2012
In the aftermath of WWII, newlyweds Philip and Isabel move to the Yorkshire East Riding where they hope to embark on their new life together. Philip is a Gp and is soon working long hours, leaving Isabel alone in their flat, with only the monotonous noise of the landlady's footsteps above for company. One particularly chilly night Isabel finds an old greatcoat in one of the cupboards and slips it on for warmth; later however, she is disturbed by a tapping at the window where an RAF officer appears to be leaning in and mouthing her name. Who is he, how is it that he seems to know her, or why perhaps even more strangely she seems to know him?
The Greatcoat is a wonderfully atmospheric read, as Dunmore captures quite perfectly the era in which the story is set. War has ended, however, the suffering and tragedy of those years still endures, permeating the very landscape as loss on both a national and personal scale is still acutely felt. Life in the small Yorkshire village for Isabel and Philip is portrayed with great naunce and attention to small detail that completely draws the reader in, and one can almost feel their hardships. The ghostly remains of the old airfield are also quite hauntingly conjured, the ambience created wonderfully eerie yet sad, with the undertone of its former life still ringing just beneath the surface.
With regards to the ghost story, this is by no means a chilling thriller or horror, but rather an unusual supernatural story with echoes of classics such as Tom's Midnight Garden. It soon becomes apparent that the presence of mysterious RAF officer, Alec, is connected somehow to the Greatcoat, however precisely why he appears to Isabel and how they seem to know each other is a mystery which is slowly unravelled. I have to say that not all aspects of the storyline quite made sense to me, sometimes it seemed like more of a time travel story and the ending too was rather dubious, hence the three stars rating. However, given the nature of the storyline I was generally prepared to merely go along with it and not question things too much.
Most of the central characters are well constructed. Isabel's small and mundane life is portrayed well such that one can empathise with her frustrations, and the effect that Alec has on her comes across well. Philip is a sympathetic character, even if not always so in the eyes of his wife, and Alec, though by no means ever a threatening figure, is laced with an air of sadness, burden and haunting. However, perhaps the most eerie presence is that of the landlady, whose relevance becomes more clear as the story progresses, and who lurks throughout the story with an air of vengeance and ill-boding.
All in all this makes for an unusual but very readable novella, not at all the average ghost story, but actually a story very much about human loss. Worth a read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 February 2012
The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore is published by Hammer, of Hammer Horror fame, and has been widely discussed in the press as the author's first horror story. But it's really not what I'd call horror. It's eerie, yes, and has a slightly unsettling, dreamlike quality to it, but if anything, what it most closely resembles is those quietly magical time-slip novels of my childhood: Charlotte Sometimes, perhaps, or Tom's Midnight Garden.

Isabel, newly married to a young GP in 1952, is struggling to find real purpose in her life as a housewife in a Yorkshire market town, where she has few friends and few outlets for her interests. Shivering one night in the freezing ground-floor flat she and her husband are renting from their dour, bitter landlady, Isabel finds an old RAF greatcoat, left over from the war, tucked away on top of a wardrobe, and huddles beneath it to keep warm. And it's around then that a mysterious young airman begins to knock at her window.

The Greatcoat is beautifully written throughout in perceptive, perfect prose, and almost every character is vividly well-constructed (with the exception, perhaps, of Isabel's husband Philip, although given the plot, this may well be deliberate). I found it incredibly easy to sympathise with Isabel, brought up by an aunt and now trying to master the art of making a steak and kidney pudding and haggling over the best fish at the market when she could have been studying for a degree, and any adult who's ever had that nagging feeling that they still aren't quite a proper grown-up yet will understand how she feels. There are times when Isabel fears that she's losing her grip on reality, unsure whether Alec is what she believes him to be, or even if she's what she believes herself to be, but in a way, this simply mirrors the unease she feels over her new role in life as a supportive housewife.

If you're looking for real scares, The Greatcoat probably isn't for you, and if I had to look for something to criticise, there were perhaps moments when I felt that Isabel's attraction to Alec was slightly over-romanticised. But this a tiny point that I've had to struggle to think of. Overall, it really is a thoroughly absorbing, exquisitely-crafted, thought-provoking book that will stay with you long after you've finished the final page.
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on 25 October 2014
Too short a story with not enough pages to develop the characters.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 February 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 a 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.
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Helen Dunmore has long been one of my favourite novellists, so I was intrigued to read this new ghost story from her. A novella in length, it is a moving and carefully crafted story.

Isabel is the new, young wife of Philip Carey. Only married for two months, Philip has a new job as a doctor at Kirby Minster, a country town. Their first home together is a ground floor flat with a creepy landlady. It is 1952 and England is still in the grip of rationing and memories of the war. Isabel's own parents died in Singapore and she is feeling isolated and a failure. What woman cannot relate to the feeling that other women are judging and looking down at her attempts to be the adult wife she almost feels she is pretending to be? As her steak and kidney pudding goes wrong and the butcher gives her the fatty cuts of meat, Isabel and Philip grow distant.

Then Isabel discovers an RAF greatcoat in a cupboard, when she is cold one night, and is woken by a man tapping at the window. The man knows her name and she knows his. As Isabel loses touch with her husband, she wonders whose memories she is having and why she is driven to walk to the deserted airfield outside the town. This is not a scary book, but it is very atmospheric and sad, with good characters and sense of place and time. Helen Dunmore is really one of the greatest authors we have and she has pulled off this new direction with ease.
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What a beautifully produced book. The cold blue cover is just entrancing, with the Second World War pilot standing outside the frosty window peering in imploringly, his hand flat against the pane.

I always deeply enjoy Helen Dunmore so this was set to be my treat.

So it was, quickly catching me up in the realistic details of an abandoned temporary airbase after the hostilities were over. Reading about the fifties is always intriguing; the emergence of hope again after the austerity and dreadful experiences of war.

The mysterious landlady pacing the floor above the newly wed young couple's rooms; the pressing weight of the greatcoat on the bed, the double life of fragile Isabel, left alone for such long periods while her doctor husband dashes off to succour the sick.

What emerges from the plot is illuminating and believable, the curtain between life and death being lifted and parted, dramatic events leaving their scar, the cruel vengeance of a damaged lover perhaps refusing rest to a tortured soul.

All the twists for a tremendous tale, we are let down perhaps only by its brevity and lightness. A clever, deep piece of writing, which must be appreciated for what it is, a short book, novella, an exquisite pleasure.
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