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• An Amazon Best Book of the Year for 2016
• Costa Book Award for First Novel finalist
• Dagger Award finalist
Newly single mom Beth has one constant, gnawing worry: that her dreamy eight-year-old daughter, Carmel, who has a tendency to wander off, will one day go missing.
And then one day, it happens: On a Saturday morning thick with fog, Beth takes Carmel to a local outdoor festival, they get separated in the crowd, and Carmel is gone.
Shattered, Beth sets herself on the grim and lonely mission to find her daughter, keeping on relentlessly even as the authorities tell her that Carmel may be gone for good.
Carmel, meanwhile, is on a strange and harrowing journey of her own—to a totally unexpected place that requires her to live by her wits, while trying desperately to keep in her head, at all times, a vision of her mother …
Alternating between Beth’s story and Carmel’s, and written in gripping prose that won’t let go, The Girl in the Red Coat—like Emma Donoghue’s Room and M. L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans—is an utterly immersive story that’s impossible to put down . . . and impossible to forget.
"Kate Hamer’s gripping debut novel immediately recalls the explosion of similarly titled books and movies, from Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, to The Girl on the Train to Gone Girl … "—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Keeps the reader turning pages at a frantic clip... What’s most powerful here is not whodunnit, or even why, but how this mother and daughter bear their separation, and the stories they tell themselves to help endure it.” —Celeste Ng (Everything I Never Told You)
“Compulsively readable...Beautifully written and unpredictable, I had to stop myself racing to the end to find out what happened.” —Rosamund Lupton (Sister)
“Both gripping and sensitive — beautifully written, it is a compulsive, aching story full of loss and redemption.” —Lisa Ballantyne (The Guilty One)
"Hamer’s dark tale of the lost and found is nearly impossible to put down.” —Booklist
|Publisher:||Melville House Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
KATE HAMER is a winner of the Rhys Davies Short Story Prize. Her first novel, Girl in the Red Coat was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award for First Novel and was a finalist for The Dagger Award. Her second novel, The Doll Funeral was described by the Guardian as evoking both Jeanette Winterson and Ian McEwan. She lives in Cardiff, Wales with her husband and two children. She can be found online at katehamer.co.uk
Read an Excerpt
I DREAM ABOUT CARMEL OFTEN. In my dreams she's always walking backwards.
The day she was born there was snow on the ground. A silvery light arced through the window as I held her in my arms.
As she grew up I nicknamed her ‘my little hedge child.' I couldn't imagine her living anywhere but the countryside. Her thick curly hair stood out like a spray of breaking glass, or a dandelion head.
'You look like you've been dragged through a hedge backwards,' I'd say to her.
And she would smile. Her eyes would close and flutter. The pale purple-veined lids like butterflies sealing each eye.
‘I can imagine that,' she'd say finally, licking her lips.
I'm looking out of the window and I can almost see her - in those tights that made cherry licorice of her legs - walking up the lane to school. The missing her feels like my throat has been removed.
Tonight I’ll dream of her again, I can feel it. I can feel her in the twilight, sitting up on the skeined branches of the beech tree and calling out. But at night in my sleep she'll be walking backwards toward the house - or is it away? – so she never gets closer.
Her clothes were often an untidy riot. The crotch of her winter tights bowed down between her knees so she'd walk like a penguin. Her school collar would stick up on one side and be buried in her jumper on the other. But her mind was a different matter - she knew what people were feeling. When Sally's husband left her, Sally sat in my kitchen drinking tequila as I tried to console her. Salt and lime and liquor for a husband. Carmel came past and made her fingers into little sticks that she stuck into Sally's thick brown hair and massaged her scalp. Sally moaned and dropped her head backwards.
‘Oh my God, Carmel, where did you learn to do that?'
'Hush, nowhere,' she whispered, kneading away.
That was just before she disappeared into the fog.
Christmas 1999. The children's cheeks blotched pink with cold and excitement as they hurried through the school gates. To me, they all looked like little trolls compared to Carmel. I wondered then if every parent had such thoughts. We had to walk home through the country lanes and already it was nearly dark.
It was cold as we started off and snow edged the road. It glowed in the twilight and marked our way. I realised I was balling my hands in tight fists inside my pockets with worries about
Christmas and no money. As I drew my hands out into the cold air and uncurled them Carmel fell back and I could hear her grumbling behind me.
‘Do hurry up,' I said, anxious to get home out of the freezing night.
‘You realise. Mum, that I won't always be with you,' she said, her voice small and breathy in the fading light.
Maybe my heart should have frozen then. Maybe I should have turned and gathered her up and taken her home. Kept her shut away in a fortress or a tower. Locked with a golden key that I would swallow, so my stomach would have to be cut open before she could be found. But of course I thought it meant nothing, nothing at all.
'Well, you're with me for now.'
I turned. She seemed far behind me. The shape of her head was the same as the tussocky tops of the hedges that closed in on either side.
A long plume of delicate ice breath brushed past my coat sleeve.
Sometimes I wonder if when I'm dead I'm destined to be looking still. Turned into an owl and flying over the fields at night, swooping over crouching hedges and dark lanes. The smoke from chimneys billowing and swaying from the movement of my wings as I pass through. Or will
I sit with her, high up in the beech tree, playing games? Spying on the people who live in our house and watching their comings and goings. Maybe we'll call out to them and make them jump.
We were single mothers, almost to a man – as one of the group once joked. We clustered together in solidarity of our status. I think now maybe it was not good for Carmel, this band of women with bitter fire glinting from their eyes and rings. Many evenings we'd be around the kitchen table and it would be then he, then he, then he. We were all hurt in some way, bruised inside. Except for Alice who had red bruises. After Carmel had gone - oh, a few months or so -
Alice came to the house.
'I had to speak to you,' she said. 'I need to tell you something.' Still I imagined anything could be a clue to the puzzle.
'What is it? What is it?' I asked, frantically clutching at the neck of my dressing gown. What she told me disappointed me so much I turned my face away and looked at the empty shell of the egg I'd eaten yesterday on the kitchen drainer. But when she started to tell me my daughter had a channel to God and could be now at His right hand - how I hated her then. Her false clues and her finding of Jesus, those wrists in identical braided bracelets turning as she spoke. I could stay silent no longer.
'Stop it!' I yelled. 'Get out of here. I thought you had something real to tell me. Get out of this house and leave me alone, you stupid cow. You crazy stupid cow. Take your God with you and don't ever come back.'
Sometimes, just before I fall asleep, I imagine crawling inside the shell of Carmel's skull and finding her memories there. Peering through her eye sockets and watching the film of her life unfold through her eyes. Look, look: there's me and her father, when we were together. Carmel's still small so to her we seem like giants, growing up into the sky. I lean down to pick her up and empty nursery rhymes into her ear.
And there's that day out to the circus.
We have a picnic by the big top before we go in. I spread out the blanket on the grass, so I
don't notice Carmel turn her head and see the clown peering from between the tent flaps. His face has thick white make-up with a big red mouth shape drawn on. She puzzles why his head is so high up because his stilts are hidden by the striped tent flap. He looks briefly up at the sky to check the weather, then his red-and-white face disappears back inside.
What else? Starting school, me breaking up with Paul and throwing his clothes out of the bedroom window. She must have seen them from where she was in the kitchen - his shirts and trousers sailing down. Other things, how many memories even in a short life: seeing the sea, a day paddling in the river, Christmas, a full moon, snow.
Always I stop at her eighth birthday and can go no farther. Her eighth birthday, when we went to the maze.
Reading Group Guide
1. In the beginning of the novel, Beth briefly loses Carmel in a maze. What is the significance of this moment? How did it influence your reaction to the scenes at the festival?
2. Beth tells Carmel that, regardless of what happens, Carmel must stay uniquely “Carmel” inside. Are names an important aspect of this story? Can you think of any examples where names play a significant role in the text?
3. Families, or, more importantly, family difficulties, are central to The Girl in the Red Coat. What are the various family dynamics at work? Where are there parallels and where are there inconsistencies?
4. Discuss Beth and her ex-husband’s shifting relationship. Consider how it is strengthened and changed by Carmel’s disappearance. As Beth says, “we were brother and sister united in this strange bond.”
5. Early in the book, Carmel’s teacher, Mrs. Buckfast, refers to Beth as “yet another single mother.” Think about the friendships Beth has with her female friends and how they support each other. Are those relationships surprising in any way? How do they evolve?
6. Fairy tales play an important role throughout The Girl in the Red Coat. Discuss the fairy tale imagery (the woods, the significance of Carmel’s red coat) and how it elevates the novel into the realm of the supernatural. Did this affect your reading of the story?
7. How does Beth handle the loss of her daughter over the course of the novel? Did you notice examples of “tiny actions” that helped her cope? How do those actions compare to the more major developments in Carmel’s disappearance?
8. Gramps believes Carmel possesses a divine gift. Do you see evidence of this divine gift throughout the text? Are you convinced by it? Look closely at pages 225–227.
9. Gramps and Dorothy tell Carmel a number of lies in order to keep her with them. These lies escalate as Carmel becomes more and more suspicious. What are some of these lies and how do they affect Carmel? Is there one that feels like the breaking point, or is it more a matter of accumulation?
10. The word “courage” is a refrain throughout the novel. Discuss the ways in which the book’s protagonists—Carmel and Beth—display courage. How do those demonstrations compare to the “courage” we see in Gramps, Dorothy, and Paul?
11. Beth says she feels “better in an environment that says: normality is paper thin.” How does the world move on as Beth struggles with her grief? Did you notice historical or cultural clues that gave you a sense of when the narrative takes place? Did it matter? Look closely at pg. 247.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This one is hard to put down . Mystery , yes, but so much more . Reaches deep into the relationship between the child and her mother . Beautifully crafted first novel .
A simple style of writing with a plot that keeps you interested. I enjoyed the continuous movement of surroundings as the main characters seem to stand still.
A wonderful first novel
Started out great however soon went over the edge and boring.
When a child goes missing, they say those first few hours are all-important. But what happens when the hours are done and the mother is trapped between grieving her loss and hating herself for the blame? Moving on might be hard, even with the help of family and friends. Without help, turning away help, and retreating from help, where will mother Beth end up? Meanwhile, where will daughter Carmel go, as her life grows gradually scarier and stranger? The Girl in the Red Coat tells the story of every parent’s nightmare, through the convincing voices of parent and child. Being lost is all too easy and all too believable. But both characters are lost in this tale, both suffering loss, and both in search of self. With haunting images, all too plausibly strange situations, unsettling touches of the paranormal, and compelling characters of just enough depth to be both good and bad, The Girl in the Red Coat is an enthralling read and truly hard to put down. Disclosure: I bought it to read on a plane and, like I said, couldn’t put it down.
Favorite Quotes: Memories grew out of the darkness; their quick growing webs crossing my path so I walked into them unawares and felt their skeins across my face. I see the energy in people and how it goes up and down, how they can be empty or full like a glass of milk. I hated thinking of the nights I’d spent eviscerating her around the kitchen table with my friends, my mouth stitching bitter shapes as I talked. The dollars spill out of the cut-out Bible. We can’t even close the cover. Dorothy tucks away the spare ones underneath her pillow, then pats the top of the pillow, like she’s putting babies to bed. My Review: I was enthralled, engrossed, and mesmerized by Ms. Hamer’s taut and atmospheric writing style. I was immediately pulled into this gripping tale which seemed to have planted deep hooks into my gray matter that did not release until well after I reached the final page. I’m still musing over the expert craft, insightful observations, complicated characters, and intricate ancillary details that added color and sound for an additional bonus layer of interest. The storyline was intense and intriguing with a consistently maintained and thrumming sense of heaviness. I am in awe of Ms. Hamer’s textual agility and am eager to instantly dive into her next book, The Doll Funeral.
Finished this book in one weekend. An amazing story of resilience and the faith a mother has to never give up, and a child's fight to make it one more day. Its the memories good and bad that help us all as humans get through the times of disparity and relief. You can imagine the characters as they are and how they transform through the years, good imagery. It's a book I could definitely re-read and discover aspects that I didn't see or think about before
I almost didn’t finish this book. Not because the writing wasn’t incredible or that the story wasn’t readable. It was too much. I couldn’t stand to turn the page, I didn’t want anything bad to happen, it was so realistic, and as a mother, the anxiety was killing me. I feel that lately, kidnappings and abductions are en vogue in the literary world, and it makes me want to hold my kids that much tighter, and never let them go. Of course I didn’t put it down, I’m not a quitter! I’m so glad that I finished, because this is a surprising tale. This is a truly unique novel that I couldn’t even have guessed what was coming next. The more I read, the more I realize that the same plotlines can easily be recycled with different authors and different characters, but this was, over and above, an original plot. The author does well to portray the grief of the mother, the hope, the letting go, and the moving on. Friendships are discovered, mended and forged. It’s not just an abduction story, it’s about accepting circumstances and living with the hand you’re dealt. Accepting fate and doing your best not to lose who you are in the world.
When I thought it couldn't get worse, it did. Some people might like this book but not me
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A little girl goes missing and a mother is devastated and in this book both the missing girl and her mother take turns narrating the story before she goes missing and the many days after. First let me say, I enjoyed the alternating narratives and I liked that we, the reader, had Carmel's perspective along with her mother, it made the book feel a little more unique as I think I have read quite a few books recently with children going missing. With this perspective, it was hard because Carmel obviously had a limited vocabulary so there were moments in her chapters where I was confused as to what she was trying to tell us, the readers.
In The Girl in the Road Coat, while at a storytelling festival, Beth loses her daughter, Carmel Wakeford. Carmel soon finds herself living with strangers in a foreign country, with a man who claims to be her “grandfather”, while Beth desperately keeps looking for her daughter. I thought the book would be a rather intense thriller – it isn’t, but it’s an equally interesting book all the same. Eight-year-old Carmel is anything but ordinary, and the chapters from her POV are really the most interesting ones. She’s highly intelligent especiallly for her age, and she’s one of the most unique characters I’ve ever read about. More than about Carmel’s disappearance, it’s really about her connection with her mother. I found that a tad dissapointing – there is no real struggle in the book. Sure, Carmel is away from home, but no one is threatening her life, or even her well being. And it’s horrible for Beth, but I felt too distanced from her to really “get” how she felt. There’s no tension, as it’s pretty obvious what will happen to Carmel once she’s abducted. Without tension, the book is an okay read at best. The writing is haunting and lyrical, which ups the rating from 3 to 3,5 stars, but I didn’t feel as engrossed inthe sotry as I could’ve been had the book been more tense.
The Girl in the Red Coat is Kate Hamer's debut novel. It's garnered lots of attention as a finalist for both the Costa Book Award for First Novel and the Dagger Award. And this is what I love about debuts - there's no history, no expectations of what the story is going to be, no familiarity with the author's style or storytelling - it's a story just waiting for the reader to discover it. Eight year old Carmel is a dreamer, often getting lost - both physically and mentally. Her single mother, Beth, struggles to keep Carmel with her in public places as the girl likes to hide. And then one day, Carmel hides too well. Her mother cannot find her.......but an older gentleman does. He says he's her grandfather and that her mother has been hurt - Carmel must come with him.....and she does. (The foreshadowing and foreboding that leads up to this is wonderful.) The Girl in the Red Coat is told in alternating viewpoints/chapters - between Beth and Carmel. Beth's chapters are marked in days - and then years as the search for Carmel continues to turn up nothing. But as readers we know where Carmel is and what has happened to her. Now, those looking for an intense suspense/mystery novel won't find it here. (Indeed, I could not slot this book into any genre.) Instead, Hamer deftly and intimately explores the aftermath of such a loss/crime/event from two very differing viewpoints. How does life go on? For both. Carmel's chapters were hard to read as they are from a child with no immediate clear picture of the deception that has occurred. But as a mother, I found Beth's just as wrenching as she tries to cope. Hamer throws in a bit of a unexpected bit with Carmel. Her 'getting lost' has a reason - and her 'grandfather' believes it has a purpose as well. I'm not quite sure how I felt about this part of the plot, but as I said at the beginning, I do like being surprised as I read. And I couldn't stop reading - I wanted to know what happened and if the two would ever be reunited. Are they? You'll have to read the book to find out. The Girl in the Red Coat was a great debut. I'll be watching for Hamer's next novel.
"Maybe it's not just me, perhaps many women keep shrines for their daughters." Since the runaway success of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, it seems like publishers have been eager to compare their thrillers to that novel. How many times have you seen a book's cover call it "The next Gone Girl"? Publishers have even gone a far as putting the word "girl" in the title in hopes of drawing a comparison (I'm looking at you The Girl on the Train). And so I when I received a review copy of Kate Hamer's debut novel The Girl in the Red Coat, I was prepared for another disappointing Gone Girl imitation. What I got instead was a brutally honest novel about love and loss that shook me to my core. The novel follows a single mother Beth and her eight-year-old daughter Carmel. Carmel is a precocious child who seems to march to the beat of her own drum. Guided by her own curiosities, the young girl has even been known to stray from her mother's protective view. One day the unthinkable happens. While exploring a storytelling festival, Beth loses sight of Carmel's bright red coat. At first, it seems exactly like the times that the girl has wandered away before. Beth fully expects to worry her head off for a few minutes only to have Carmel pop back into view, oblivious of her mother's paranoia. But this time, things are different. This time, Carmel really is gone. Chapters in the novel are alternatively told from the perspectives of mother and child. Like the young Jack in Emma Donoghue's Room, Carmel views the situation with a youthful wonder. Hamer skillfully captures the mind of the young child as she grapples with the fear of being alone in the world and longs to find her mother. These portion illustrate the child's ability to adapt to the harrowing situation. Carmel's youthful ignorance guides her frustratingly further from her home as we read on, unable to intervene in the girl's journey. The ultimate success of this novel hinges on Beth's heartbreaking story. Her chapters bring insight into the mind of a woman whose life has been upturned. She is emotionally broken and desperately clings to any hope of finding her daughter. It is in these chapters that Kate Hamer truly shines. She writes of the madness that can come with grief and desperation, truly capturing the isolation and hopelessness of loss. "I don't think we can feel guilty, Beth. Not for anything we feel or anything we think. No one else knows. No one. And if they say they do they're liars." The Girl in the Red Coat is a stunning novel that is written with an honesty that strips the character's feelings to the bare bones. The quick pace of the prose deceptively leads the reader towards sudden walls of inescapable emotion that can't be bypassed. I found myself pondering my own losses throughout my life, especially the ones that came out of nowhere. While this novel can be intense and the situations difficult to reconcile, it is the unrelenting love of a mother for her child that ultimately shines through. Despite all of the sorrow and heartache in the world, love will always remain.