The Greatcoat

Author(s): Helen Dunmore
Publisher: Hammer
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9780099564935
ASIN: 0099564939
Release Date: 2nd February 2012


Prolific author and winner of the Orange Prize Helen Dunmore has turned her hand at a ghost story set in post war Yorkshire 1952, the days of rationing and austerity. Isabel is the bride of ambitious country doctor Philip and they start their life together in a cramped ground floor flat with the mysterious and abrupt landlady habiting upstairs where her pacing the floorboards can be heard day and night.

These are the days of make do and mend, where coal to heat your property was scarce and basic commodities simply weren't available. In this background Isabel finds herself unable to sleep in her freezing flat, so reduced to rummaging through her landlady's possessions finds an RAF greatcoat tucked away. Coinciding with this discovery she is visited by the troubled Alec, a Lancaster bomber pilot nearing the end of his tour, and so begins a whirlwind romance with this elusive serviceman.

The entire premise of a ghost story suggests unsettling and scary prose, yet this lightweight book doesn't use these conventions. Furthermore, Dunmore has rewritten other rules of the ghost story and is inconsistent with their implementation. Isabel is invisible to others when she rides on Alec's motorcycle yet when he bleeds, his blood stains the floor, his smell of cigarettes and engine oil lingers, he is able to drink gin, he can impregnate females and thus his sperm is certainly of this World!

Dunmore is a children's author, and much of this book I feel would chime with teenagers. It doesn't work as a piece for adults. There is no suspense - everything is signposted well in advance. There is precious little to hold the reader's attention, but it is mercifully short.