Recently I have been thinking over my snobbish attitude to modern day bestsellers and why, apart from a few, I don’t particularly feel the need to splurge on them. Mainly because a lot of the ones I have ‘indulged in’ seem less complex and well thought out than the books I normally like to hide away in.
This, of course could be just me being my usual picky self, but perhaps I have been foolish all these years and should rectify my failings. So t’other day I decided to go and buy a book which I wouldn’t normally consider, the criteria I chose for this expedition into the (recently) unknown being: it must be a hit with folk, although that was rather easy due to Amazon’s almost blanket five star reviews and also to add to the popularist image it has to appear on the 2012 Richard and Judy book club list.
For those of you who don’t know R&J are a married couple who have presented lots of television talk shows, which involved their trademark good natured bickering and the like. They also managed to read lots of books each month despite their busy work schedules and so formed the R&J bookclub.
Going to the only bookshop in town (excepting The Works which has gone down hill a lot in the last few years), I searched out books with the R&J brand name on. The Big Sticker (pictured below) hit me in the face as soon as I walked in, as it is designed to do and I admit I felt a bit weird going to the till, with that sticker as noticeable as a lighthouse at the witching hour.
it was a, buy one get one half price,offer so naturally, I got another book,the other being The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. but today I shall be focusing on The Greatcoat.
In the winter of 1952, Isabel Carey moves to the East Riding of Yorkshire with her husband Philip, a GP. With Philip spending long hours on call, Isabel finds herself isolated and lonely as she strives to adjust to the realities of married life.
Woken by intense cold one night, she discovers and old RAF greatcoat hidden in the back of the cupboard. Sleeping under it for warmth, she starts to dream. And not long afterwards, while her husband is out, she is startled by a knock at her window.
Outside is a young RAF pilot, waiting to come in.
On the face of it, quite literally in this case, things get off to a good start, with the phrase ‘The most elegant flesh-creeper since The Woman in Black’ on the front cover. That is always going to interest people as that story was a fine piece of prose. The picture looks suitably sinister as well, especially for this time of year. And to cap it all off, it’s a Hammer book, and the good pedigree of the Hammer Horror films gives the book added gravitas.
So, to the inside and reinforcing the idea that this book is genuinely spinechilling are three pages of review quotes but after having skimmed them, all my hopes were shattered. I’m not a delicate flower or anything like that, but the one thing that always disappoints me regardless of the book is the font size. In this case it’s huge, like the type you’d find in a children’s book. Perhaps I am being a bit churlish, but I am a firm believer that if you have only enough words for a short story, then that is what it should be, Susan Hill does it superbly so why not here, or perhaps that is how the mainstream books do it these days?
Consequently, through the illusion of page numbers you can perhaps be forgiven for thinking that this is a book with lots of interesting nuanced plotting. There isn’t much of that though, there is one plot thread, which is pretty standard as far as plots go.
Without dropping any bombshells about the plot, I will say that everything falls into place to easily, the main character Isabel is just to accepting of what is going on and responds exactly how no one else would. Ever. None of the other characters have any sort of depth, let alone a small sub plot of their own, to help you make a connection and care about them in any way.
I did manage to garner some good points from the book however, so it’s not all doom and gloom. The air of isolation and desolation in various locations hit the spot, the description of York Minster looming was nice as I have been to that glorious edifice. Equally alright was the physical/supernatural blurring of reality that goes on through out and the wartime/post wartime feel was also fairly effective.
Overall this isn’t really a horror book or even anything genuinely sinister. It doesn’t have enough depth to be a proper novel even though there are 30 odd pages of extra material: an afterword, interview and notes on creating the characters. I would class this solely as a beach read, it’s not a book you can wallow in for any length of time and definitely not worthy of traditional Hammer.