Tag Archives: ghost story

‘The Greatcoat’ by Helen Dunmore

The GreatcoatstarstarNot a huge fan of ghost stories, I was surprised to find myself reading a second one in only two months! This time for my book club. Both authors built fear using atmosphere, rain, wind, fog, and creepy characters. This one in particular used cold.

Unfortunately the whole story left me a bit cold, and although I appreciated some good writing by the author and enjoyed the set up of a young married couple struggling in a post-war Yorkshire town, the whole possession of the greatcoat did not frighten me, in fact I found it rather dreamy and elegant which is a strange reaction, knowing it was meant to be spine-tingling! It is commonly understood that ghosts appear because of unfinished business – Alec did have a reason to haunt and Isabel had a reason to be haunted. An interesting twist (which I believe is the reason the story is not so scary) is that in this one, the ghost brings warmth and comfort instead of cold and terror!

“In the winter of 1952, Isabel Carey is struggling to adjust to the realities of married life in Yorkshire. Isolated and lonely, she is also intensely cold. And her husband – a doctor – is rarely home. And then one night she discovers an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard. She puts it on her bed for warmth – and is startled by a knock at her window. Outside is a young man. A pilot. And he wants to come in…”

Although this book was published by Hammer, a horror publisher, most of Dunmore’s other books were published by Penguin and I suspect they are quite different from this one. If you are a Helen Dunmore fan, I would appreciate knowing which one of hers I should read next. I fear this may not have been the best one to start with. I did appreciate her writing, I just didn’t enjoy the story all that much. I liked how she created the idea that history can be so powerful a force in our lives that it seems to somehow possess us and make its presence known. I liked how she described the loneliness and isolation of a young wife in a small rural town and how she skillfully revealed some hairline cracks in a new marriage. But that was about it.

‘This House is Haunted’ by John Boyne

This House is HauntedstarstarstarThis little ghost story caught my attention because I so loved The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Boyne has written a number of novels for young readers, this is one of his eight novels for adults.

Written in Dickensian prose, this classic nineteenth-century spooky story made me wonder if it was all written ‘tongue in cheek’ since the opening line is “I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father.” But is that meant to set the tone for the entire novel? I never did figure that out, despite a few other references to Dickens, but it really doesn’t matter, it can be enjoyed either way.

Eliza Caine is led mysteriously to Gaudlin Hall in county Norfolk by a curious offer of a job as governess to two young children. But when she arrives there is no one about except for her young charges. Added to her concern, is not only the near accident upon her arrival at the train station, but also a number of strange things that continue to happen within the walls of Gaudlin Hall. As Eliza investigates she uncovers secrets that threaten not only her stay, but her very life.

With all the spooky Victorian clichés intact (isolated mansion, bare-foot orphan in nightwear, wind and fog, strange servants, cripple in the attic), the book can either leave you with a tingling spine (if you believe in ghosts) or with a delicious sense of entertainment (if you don’t). For me it was clearly the latter. It’s not that I denounce all possibility of such paranormal apparitions, it’s just that I haven’t met any myself yet. So I am safe in enjoying the story for just what it is – a nice atmospheric ghost story. Boyne is a good writer and he allowed me to revel in fear and fog while sitting by a crackling fire on a dark and stormy night. I had hoped for an original modern twist in the end but Boyne remained true to his gothic genre. The ending was exactly as it should have been – cue the creepy organ music.