The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Set in the 1950s in the years following the end of WW2 this novella is a poignant ghost story.
Newlyweds Isabel and her husband Philip a gp move into their first home together a rather grim little flat with an unfriendly landlady and Isabel struggles to adapt to married life, finding the constraints of the small apartment don't permit her to become the housewife she dreamt about, and her husbands long hours constantly on call out leave her felling isolated and unfulfilled.
Searching through the cupboards for extra blankets to dispel the shivers and chills she feels in bed she finds instead an ex-forces greatcoat, which she finds herself unable to resist cuddling into and nestling beneath in bed despite the strange and vivid dreams which follow.
Her waking hours seem to take on a dreamlike quality and she is startled yet unsurprised when a tap on her window late at nights reveals a young pilot calling her name. His she discovers is Alec and she is drawn to him, in ways she has been unable to bond with her new husband.
But all is not as it seems and her life begins to take on an increasingly surreal quality as past blends with present.
I've only read 2 books by Helen Dunmore before and wasn't impressed with either - as they had an unrelentingly bleak and grim quality to them. This short book has a similar bleakness yet that seems to enhance the ghostly nature of the story, I found it profoundly moving and sad and kept reading it late last night to find out what happened. It left me with a lump in my throat and tears on my pillow.
Not a terrifying horror ghost story but a compellingly eerie tale of loss and betrayal and a desire for redemption which transcends time.
I also feel there is something deliciously concise about a novella that keeps superfluous descriptions at bay and ensures the stark prose keeps to the point and every sentence counts.