Saturday, November 24, 2012

Quick Review

The Greatcoat: A Ghost StoryThe Greatcoat: A Ghost Story by Helen Dunmore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'd never read Helen Dunmore, despite her many prizes and her excellent reputation as a novelist.  I found this book looking for ghost stories by contemporary writers.  Despite all the glowing reviews, I was a bit sceptical, still.  I don't much like romantic ghost stories; lovers sadly parted by the grave, love conquering death and all that.  (It's not that I'm not romantic -- that's as may be -- but I don't think much of supernatural explanations for human emotion.)  I might have trusted to the solid, British sound of the author's name, if not to her standing to assure me of the absence here of "soppiness."

There is a romance here, and a quite convincing one, gracefully and discreetly handled throughout, but this is not a Romance in the modern sense, so much as a kind of elegy; for youth, for the assumed moral clarity of the World War, and for that fleeting liberation from conformity and squalor that sex, for a time, and for some of us who are lucky, may be.

The supernatural element at the heart of this story is masterfully suggested, as it might have been in a ghost story by Wharton.  There's no explanation where there needn't be any, no attempt to make such mysteries plain.  The deftness with which Dunmore manages this while writing in an entirely convincing, very contemporary voice comes as a very happy shock, to me at least.  (Not to get mired in endless comparisons, but the last writer I knew who did this this well was probably Muriel Spark.  Again, good company.)

I'll want more of Helen Dunmore's novels now.  I hope she does another ghost story as good as this.

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