15 April 2013

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore, Book review

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
ISBN-13: 978-0802120601


Bestselling novelist Helen Dunmore’s historical novels have earned her comparisons in the press to Tolstoy and Emily Bronte. In her newest book, Dunmore mines the past to chilling effect in this evocative and sophisticated ghost story about a love affair between a neglected wife and a mysterious soldier.
It is the winter of 1952 when Isabel Carey moves to the East Riding of Yorkshire with her new husband, Philip, a medical doctor. While Philip spends long hours working away from home, Isabel finds herself lonely and vulnerable as she adjusts to the realities of being a housewife in the country.

One evening, while Philip is on call, Isabel is woken by intense cold. When she hunts for extra blankets, she discovers an old RAF greatcoat hidden in the back of a cupboard. Sleeping under the coat for warmth, she starts to dream and is soon startled by a knock at her window. Outside is a young RAF pilot wearing a familiar coat. His name is Alec and his powerful presence disturbs and excites her as they begin an intense affair. Nothing though has prepared her for the truth about Alec’s life, nor the impact it will have on her own.

My thoughts:

I found this title courtesy of Josie-Mary in Devon, who believes herself to be born in the wrong era and I was only too delighted to see our library listed this novel in their catalogue!

Author Helen Dunmore pens a seemingly prosaic story of two newlyweds moving into a cold little flat in 1952 Yorkshire. Philip, a young doctor spends long hours working and his wife Isabel feels isolated as she tries to adjust to country life.

During one of many lonely walks, Isabel discovers an R.A.F. bomber airfield, a derelict ghost of a war now 7 years over, a stark reminder of losses including her parents in a faraway camp. 

When she finds in a cupboard a greatcoat such as worn by WW2 R.A.F. officers, Isabel inquires from her dour landlady of its origin only to be told it is hers if she wishes to have it. 
Isabel enjoys the great coat's for its woollen warmth as she lays in bed dreaming until one night, she hears a knock at the window and sees a young officer, his coat resembling the one she found. He seems to know Isabel and she feels she knows his name...

What follows is a haunting tale of love highlighted by a clever twist of storytelling, that of the existence of a fine line betwixt this world and the after world, seen perhaps only by those who have experienced great loss.

I have always felt a pull towards WW2 era stories and this plot line was singularly fortuitous. 
In 'The Greatcoat' Helen Dunmore gives us a beautifully crafted story of passion drawn against the dramatic background of WW2 and postwar Great Britain.

You will not want to miss it! 

5 Stars!

About the Author:

To understand a little of Helen Dunmore's prodigeous writing skills, you must start with her biography:

"I was born in December 1952, in Yorkshire, the second of four children. My father was the eldest of twelve, and this extended family has no doubt had a strong influence on my life, as have my own children. In a large family you hear a great many stories. You also come to understand very early that stories  hold quite different meanings for different listeners, and can be recast  from many viewpoints..."

More about it on her biography (HERE). Be sure to check out her other novels and writings (HERE)

Finally, as you know, unless specified, all reviews reflects only my opinion!


  1. Thank you for a wonderful review. This has been on my TBR for quite a while now.

  2. I like her writing style Mystica and was not disappointed in this first novel (not my last I assure you!)
    The reviews were positive in the UK, not so much in the US. Then again, I think the Yanks missed the postwar atmosphere of Great Britain, perfectly described here and the plotline would hardly stand without it.
    I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did!


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