AUTHOR: HELEN DUNMORE
Details: Received from and reviewed for BookGeeks
The year is 1954 and although the war has been over for 9 years Britain is still a bleak place with the remnants of abandoned military bases dotted in the landscape, rationing determining what people can get their hands on and daily comforts being few and far between.
Isabel Carey has recently married Philip who is a GP and together they’ve moved to a Yorkshire town where he starts his medical practice. While Philip is happy with his new career and surroundings, Isabel can’t seem to settle. She feels like everybody she meets in the town is judging her and can’t stand the apartment they’re renting, which is impossible to keep warm, or her landlady who lives on the floor above them and seems to spend all her time pacing from the door to the window and back again. This noise keeps Isabel awake at night and makes her uncomfortable.
One night, while Philip is out working, Isabel can’t shake the cold and searches the house for something to keep her warm. When she finds an old greatcoat at the back of a cupboard she takes it down and finds that it keeps her deliciously warm and allows her to sleep. That sleep though is filled with very vivid dreams. When a knock on her front window wakes her up she is scared when she sees a young handsome Air Force pilot staring at her through the window. She quickly closes her curtains but when she opens them again for a second look the man has gone.
It isn’t long before the pilot is knocking on her window again and mouthing her name. This time curiosity wins out over fear and Isabel lets him into her house. To her amazement Isabel discovers that although she has never met this man named Alec before, he seems to know her. And somehow Isabel develops memories about him and his relationship to her as they spend time together. Memories that are vivid and very realistic, although she knows that they can’t be hers.
Soon Isabel finds herself in a passionate affair with Alec while uncertain as to what is real and what isn’t. Because her affair with Alec seems to be taking place during the war rather than in the present while there are manifestations of his visits in her life with Philip.
And all the time her landlady continues her walking from the front door to the window and back again.
This is a fascinating ghost story. The reader has no more of an idea as to what is really happening and what is supernatural than Isabel does. As Isabel slowly pieces together who Alec is and why he is visiting her, so does the reader, and when it seems that all the questions are answered and the haunting has been brought to a peaceful end there is still one more disaster to avert.
In many ways this was as much a love story as a ghost story. Although the way in which the ghost takes over Isabel’s life and memories is spooky, it is never heartstoppingly scary because at no point is there the impression that the ghost has anything but love for the woman he’s visiting. On the other hand, the reader is only too aware that consorting with one who should have departed can’t lead to anything good and can only hope that Isabel will figure that out too, before it is too late.
Helen Dunmore has written a beautiful and haunting story which draws the reader in to England in the late 1950’s. Her descriptions make the greyness of the surroundings and the harshness of life at the time come to life and her characters are realistic.
The thing I appreciated most in this book though is that the author didn’t try to give logical explanations for everything that happens in the story. Some things remain unexplained or uncertain, leaving the reader with much to wonder and fantasise about after the last page has been read.
This book is published by Hammer, better known for its horror movies, through Random house and there will be more original ghost stories to follow. If this book sets the standard, then this is one publishing innovation to look forward to and embrace.