Margo Dill: Author's ghost story is a page turner
Helen Dunmore is an accomplished writer of both adult and children's books. Her latest literary contribution is "The Greatcoat," a ghost story (for adults) set both in Great Britain in World War II and in 1952.
She handles the plot and the characters with the ease of an expert writer — from the first page readers will know they are in a world created by a master. The language is lovely, the novel's plot is page-turning and her characters are memorable and sympathetic.
"The Greatcoat" is worth the short amount of time it will take you to actually read its fewer than 200 pages.
In 1952, Isabel Carey, the main character of the tale, and her husband, Philip, a country doctor, move to a flat in Yorkshire. An old, crotchety landlady lives above them, and they are all still victims of World War II — even several years after its end — because of ration tickets and short supplies.
Philip loves being a doctor and pours his heart and soul into it — so much so that he doesn't leave any time for his wife, who grows lonely and a tad resentful.
One night, Isabel awakes and is terribly cold. She searches around their flat for more blankets, anything to keep warm, and she finds an old Royal Air Force greatcoat stuffed away by her landlady. She uses it as a blanket and falls back to sleep. Soon after this, she awakes in the middle of the night to a tapping sound at her window; it is an RAF pilot, Alec, who is wearing a greatcoat very similar to the one she found.
Eventually, Isabel and Alec begin an affair, although Isabel realizes from the start that things aren't quite right with her new love.
But she seems caught up and hardly able to help herself and her behavior that is not fit for a doctor's wife.
She grows more distant from Philip, who becomes more involved with his patients. Although he realizes his wife is not acting quite right, he can't put his finger on what is making her seem strange to him.
Isabel also constantly complains about the landlady who paces back and forth all night, every night, as if she is waiting for someone to return to her.
As the novel progresses, Dunmore expertly explores the two main relationships in the novel: Isabel and her husband and Isabel and her lover. She also weaves in details that Alec experiences during World War II — and the mystery of his often sudden appearance and disappearance. The landlady also is a looming character, and Dunmore writes so you can feel the discomfort she adds to the entire situation.
Once you start this book, you will want to read until the last page to find out who Alec is exactly and his ties to the place where Isabel lives — and whether she'll save her marriage with Philip.
Although readers might be able to understand her boredom, loneliness and attraction to Alec, they'll be rooting for her to stay with her kind and respectable husband and hope that in the end, she takes control of her own life.
"The Greatcoat" is much more than a romance or love story. It's also historical fiction, women's fiction and paranormal fiction all thrown into one to create a book that is worth taking off the shelf to curl up with and drink a hot cup of your favorite beverage on a cold winter's night.
Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/). Formerly of East Central Illinois, she now lives in St. Louis with her family.