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The Greatcoat – Helen Dunmore

08 Oct

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.

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10 Comments

Posted by on 08/10/2012 in Fiction, Horror

 

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10 responses to “The Greatcoat – Helen Dunmore

  1. gargoylebruce

    09/10/2012 at 01:03

    You’re point about print size is an important one. I experience the same annoyance when I find a paperback I’m looking forward to that is squeezed into point 6 font. Honestly, publishers, you could just select a slightly larger binding format….My eyeballs aren’t getting any younger you know.

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    • StetotheJ

      09/10/2012 at 18:11

      With age comes pickiness, I just get grouchy at the waste of paper that could be done for a reprint of some long out of print travel book or some such.

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  2. aliceatwonderland

    09/10/2012 at 05:48

    I always wonder about books that are so heavily promoted. I’m just instantly dubious. I guess it’s my general cynical nature, but when there’s that much hype, it’s awfully hard to live up to and often the book does not. I didn’t read the Harry Potter series for a long time because of the hype. It turned out to be a good series, although I feel some of the later books could have done with more editing, but I think that’s an exception to the rule. Often they just fall short, and I kind of resent all those five star reviews that are tossed their way just because someone else said the book was good. It makes you wonder if that person read it themselves, or if they’re just going on the advice of someone like the two you mentioned, just like they did back when Oprah had her book club. Eh.

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    • StetotheJ

      09/10/2012 at 18:19

      I couldn’t agree more, even if you threatened to stab me with a sharpened pair of safety scissors. The Potter books lost the magic at the fifth book. I think the lack of decent editing was subtley there in book four but the next book was lacking in so many ways. If I was a child with critical faculties it would scar me for life. Happily I’m not so that’s alright then. I shall join you in your cynical ways, it’s definitely the way to go.

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      • aliceatwonderland

        09/10/2012 at 20:58

        Ugh, the fifth book really bugged me. All that crap about the house. I GET IT Rowling, let’s get the kid to the freaking school that the book’s all about already. I think the 6th and especially 7th were better – it’s like the editors woke up for a while on those.

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        • StetotheJ

          10/10/2012 at 13:56

          After five I just wasn’t that impressed, it was spoilt by the monstrosity of book five. I definitely think Azkaban was the high point of the series.

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  3. Claire 'Word by Word'

    09/10/2012 at 06:35

    Doog to see you picked up The Snow Child, hope you fare better there, it’s not about the plot, it was the poetic prose for me anyway. 🙂

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    • StetotheJ

      09/10/2012 at 18:14

      I love lyrical content, so I hall get to it soon, might leave it until closer to christmas though, purely because it has the word snow in the title. I am looking forward to it, even The Greatcoat can’t dent my confidence.

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  4. pennycoho

    15/10/2012 at 04:26

    No please, don’t be shy tell us what you really think! I am actual sorry. If I get into a book, that is to say if I begin to read, and there is not something compelling (I don’t care what it is, maybe the pages -used book-are sticky because so many people have read it) anything that says to me I want to keep reading this book, then I don’t. So to read the book all the way through anyway to do a proper review, just sad!

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    • StetotheJ

      15/10/2012 at 13:29

      Being that the book was short, and I hoped for a nice chilling ending I kept on. Although recently I stopped reading The Gormenghast Trilogy after the first book as nothing much was grabbing me about it, despite the good points it just didn’t seem enough. I am starting to get a heck of a lot more critical in what I read these days, so a lot less bestsellers and more substantial books. Still I allow myself the odd lapse to keep my hand in, as it were, in case I miss anything. Having said that Moby Dick was brilliant but not the paciest, so I amusingly nicknamed it Slowby Dick. I amuse myself.

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