The Greatcoat

Overview


Bestselling novelist Helen Dunmore’s historical novels have earned her comparisons in the press to Tolstoy and Emily Bronte. In her newest book, Dunmore mines the past to chilling effect in this evocative and sophisticated ghost story about a love affair between a neglected wife and a mysterious soldier.

It is the winter of 1952 when Isabel Carey moves to the East Riding of Yorkshire with her new husband, Philip, a medical doctor. While Philip spends long hours working away ...

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The Greatcoat: A Ghost Story

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Overview


Bestselling novelist Helen Dunmore’s historical novels have earned her comparisons in the press to Tolstoy and Emily Bronte. In her newest book, Dunmore mines the past to chilling effect in this evocative and sophisticated ghost story about a love affair between a neglected wife and a mysterious soldier.

It is the winter of 1952 when Isabel Carey moves to the East Riding of Yorkshire with her new husband, Philip, a medical doctor. While Philip spends long hours working away from home, Isabel finds herself lonely and vulnerable as she adjusts to the realities of being a housewife in the country.

One evening, while Philip is on call, Isabel is woken by intense cold. When she hunts for extra blankets, she discovers an old RAF greatcoat hidden in the back of a cupboard. Sleeping under the coat for warmth, she starts to dream and is soon startled by a knock at her window. Outside is a young RAF pilot wearing a familiar coat. His name is Alec and his powerful presence disturbs and excites her as they begin an intense affair. Nothing though has prepared her for the truth about Alec’s life, nor the impact it will have on her own.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1952, with England still suffering the aftershocks of WWII ("Shortages, restrictions, rules and ration books, coupons and exhortations..."), Isabel and her new husband Philip move to the countryside, where he is taking over a medical practice. While Philip is immediately absorbed in his work, Isabel feels lonely and unsure of her decision to enter into the life of a country doctor's wife. One cold night, Isabel discovers, in the top of the cupboard, an RAF greatcoat, apparently being kept by Mrs. Atkinson, their strange landlady. Before long the ghost of the coat's former owner, a WWII officer named Alec, appears outside the window and draws Isabel into a curious and passionate romance. It's only a matter of time before the truth of the officer's past is revealed. Orange Prize winner Dunmore (for A Spell of Winter) this time delivers more of a slender film treatment than a fully developed novel, with blurry paranormal rules and obvious themes about the impact of war and its losses on our lives. Agent: AP Watt, London. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"Written in crisp, enthralling prose . . . The dynamics of Isabel's new marriage are conveyed with subtlety and precision, and the sense of deja vu surrounding the story makes it all the more chilling. . . . Tense and engaging."—The New Yorker

“A perfect ghost story”—The Independent

"Atmospheric . . . Haunting . . . Dunmore's eerie evocation of post-WWII Britian provides the perfect framework for this nifty little ghost story."—Booklist

"The Greatcoat is spooky."—The Daily Best (Hot Reads)

“Conveys a shivery menace . . . This is the most elegant flesh-creeper since Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black.”—The Times (UK)

“Dunmore has a sharp eye, and a fine pen, for the hairline cracks in a new marriage, for what is not said as passion begins to dwindle.”—The Guardian

"A taut, elegantly written ghost story . . . Dunmore is on fine form here, wielding her skill at bringing history to life in the small, dismal details of the post-war period, and showing off her talents as a poet in her mesmerising depiction of a possession. . . . Spines are delicately, deliciously chilled when she reveals just who is doing the possessing—ghost stories don’t have to be long or gruesome, to be thoroughly scary."—The Sunday Times (UK)

“A powerful evocation of the period and of the tricks the mind can play on itself, [The Greatcoat’s] unadorned prose builds a chilling effect reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw.”—Prospect (UK)

“Dunmore achieves a delicate balance . . . in this beautifully written tale.”—The Scotsman

“Haunting and exquisitely crafted.”—Glamour

“Dunmore writes with passion and precision . . . The Greatcoat is a charming character study, a poignant romance, and a fascinating period piece.”—The Daily Mail

“A deceptively slight tale that catches the reader off guard, revealing the slipperiness of reality . . . The Greatcoat is a gentle tale as war stories go but exposes, all the more searingly for that, the corrosive half-life that lingers on in homes and hearts long after hostilities have ceased.”—The Sunday Herald

Library Journal
Having moved to Yorkshire in winter 1952 with her doctor husband, who's often absent, Isabel Carey is feeling isolated. One night she wakes up freezing and huddles under an RAF greatcoat she finds abandoned in a cupboard. Then she hears a knock on the window and discovers a young man wearing a greatcoat just like hers. Orange Prize winner Dunmore makes the past shimmer, but here she's making it spooky, too.
Library Journal
Isabel and Philip Carey start their married life in a small Yorkshire village in 1952. Philip works long hours as a doctor, while Isabel tries to keep house with little money. Rationing, left over from World War II, is still in effect, making it difficult to get enough coal to keep their shabby apartment warm. Isabel finds an old RAF greatcoat in the cupboard, piles it on the bed, and falls asleep underneath its weight. When a mysterious RAF pilot named Alec knocks on the window, he acts as if he knows Isabel. She feels as if she knows him too, maybe from another life. Their passionate affair seems inevitable. This leisurely paced novella is big on atmosphere but light on plot and character development. VERDICT Best for those who are already fans of Dunmore's gothic novels or for readers who enjoy a quick ghost story. [See Prepub Alert, 4/23/12.]—Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
After a grimly realistic portrayal of postwar East Berlin in The Betrayal (2010), Dunmore offers up an eerie story about postwar England that may, or may not, be a ghost story. In 1952, newlyweds Isabel and Philip move to East Riding where Philip has taken his first job as a doctor. While Philip plunges into his work, Isabel is lonely and adrift in her own life. Mrs. Atkinson, the dour elderly landlady, is always pacing the floor above, and Isabel's downstairs apartment is dank and cold; looking in a closet for an extra blanket, she comes across a military greatcoat and wraps herself in it for warmth. Another night not long afterward, she wakes to a tapping at the window and finds a young pilot staring in and calling her nickname, Issy. The pilot begins visiting regularly. Whether he's a ghost or figment of her imagination remains unclear. Together they visit a nearby World War II airfield; she sees abandoned disrepair, but to him, the base is in full wartime operation. They make love. Afterward, she stands in front of her house with him unseen by the local woman. She inexplicably knows his name is Alec and that he is waiting to fly a bombing mission to Germany that has been delayed. She finds herself increasingly filled with another woman's memories--a farmhouse, a baby, Alec. Meanwhile, she and the touchingly drawn Philip repeatedly fumble their attempts at love and intimacy. When Isabel witnesses Alec and Mrs. Atkinson share an exchange of terrible longing, she sees why Alec actually has appeared. The slight tale crumbles under too much scrutiny but beautifully expresses emotional longing in ways both natural and supernatural.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802120601
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/2/2012
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.42 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author


Helen Dunmore is the author of eleven novels, including The Betrayal, a New York Times Editors' Choice; The Siege, a national best seller and finalist for the Whitbread Novel of the Year Award; and A Spell of Winter, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction.
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