Review of The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore – 3.5 Stars

The GreatcoatThe Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set in 1954, newlywed Isabel Carey arrives in a Yorkshire town with her husband Philip. As a GP he spends much of his time working, while Isabel tries hard to adjust to the realities of married life. Life is not easy: she feels out-of-place and constantly judged by the people around her, so she spends much of her time alone.

One cold winter night, Isabel finds an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard that she uses to help keep warm. Once wrapped in the coat she is beset by dreams. Soon after Isabel is startled to hear a knock at her window by a young Air Force pilot, named Alec. His haunting presence both disturbs and excites Isabel. Her initial alarm soon fades, and they begin a delicious affair. As she learns more about Alec (and herself in the process) she seems to be uncovering a past secret that has lain dormant for many years.

I didn’t hate this book but I didn’t love it either. I think that is partly due to all the reviews and hype around it “A terrifyingly atmospheric ghost story by the Orange-prize-winning Helen Dunmore”, “A perfect ghost story”, “The most elegant flesh-creeper since The Woman in Black” was what I had heard/read about this book. For me it just didn’t really live up to the hype.

So, trying to figure out why I didn’t love this story, I think there were a couple of reasons:
• The novel was full of melancholy and there were very few areas of light to be found in the pages. I understand that the job of a novel in this genre is to make it dark and brooding but there is very little contrast.
• There was no wow factor. I kept waiting for something unpredictable, some kind of plot twist, something I’d overlooked to come back to light, but it never arrived. That very thing that keeps you reading just never happened so it left me feeling a little deflated and unrewarded as I had ploughed my way through the book to the end.
• Isabel the main character is really uninteresting. It felt like she spent most of her time wallowing in self-pity, then we are supposed to turn a blind eye as she willingly starts an affair with a stranger whilst her (kind, sweet, hard-working) husband is out at work.

I didn’t give this a 1 star, so here is what I liked about the book.
• I like the concept of this book. Not only the storyline of the RAF and how the next generation grew up in the shadow of the war. There was a definite interest there for me and I am disappointed that I did not enjoy it more.
• The location and setting of the Yorkshire villages and lanes are very easy to visualise (possibly more so as I lived in Yorkshire for a number of years). I think the author captured this very well.
• I actually enjoyed how the dual-timelines met. In some novels that have multiple timelines, the protagonist often has to fall asleep or read diaries etc to discover the events of the past. However, the overlap in these two stories is handled very smoothly.


Overall, not great but not bad either. I don’t know, maybe I missed something? Others seem to love this book but it just didn’t live up to what I was hoping for from the description.

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