Mini reviews: Dunmore and McFarlane

Back in early November, I spent a week in the Yorkshire Moors. By some miracle the sun mostly shone on us, although most days were characterised by a slightly manic “we must beat the fast-approaching twilight” tone, as we raced around the sights with the early evenings drawing in behind us at warp speed.

As with most of our cottage holidays, there was lots of time built in for sitting in front of the woodburner and reading so I thought I’d touch on a few of the books that I took with me.

13111441Helen Dunmore, The Greatcoat: The blogosphere kept telling me to read Dunmore and eventually I couldn’t ignore it anymore. This was the first of two of her books I took with me. It’s more of a novella, produced as part of the Hammer Horror partnership with Arrow Books. The premise is wonderful. It’s 1952 and lonely young doctor’s wife, Isabel Carey, is struggling to adjust to her new life in Yorkshire. During her first chilling winter, driven to distraction by the cold, she finds an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard and throws it over her bed for warmth. That night, a young man knocks at her window. He’s an RAF pilot and as the BCC says ‘he wants to come in…‘. I was totally gripped by the story and read this in one extended sitting that led me from the woodburner to a hot-water bottle strewn bed. However, I’m not sure I loved the ending. Perhaps things became a little too overblown for my taste; a ghost story with a little too much flesh and blood.

18712884Helen Dunmore, The Lie: The second of the Dunmores, this story was set in Cornwall in 1920 and I loved it wholeheartedly. Deeper, more insightful and nuanced than The Greatcoat, the book follows Daniel Branwell from the putrid mire of his Great War experiences to the loamy dirt of his Cornish home. On his return, he tells a lie, simple enough in passing but one with the darkest of consequences. Branwell is possessed by the memory of his time in the trenches and the ghost of his greatest friend, Frederick, and I found that his story crept under my skin in a much more chilling way than The Greatcoat. I’m thrilled to have discovered Dunmore, who writes people, events and the natural world with such understanding and delicacy of detail that she gave me goosebumps on more than one occasion, both through the satisfaction of a well-turned phrase and the thrill of a truly terrifying passage.

17332361Fiona MacFarlane, The Night Guest: I really went all-out creepy for this particular holiday. After reading lots of reviews, this one made by To Read list fairly easily. Elderly Ruth lives alone on the sea front in New South Wales. One day, larger than life Frida arrives, announcing that she has been sent to be Ruth’s carer. But Frida is not all she seems and Ruth has started to hear a tiger prowling around her house during the night. I loved this book for two reasons. 1) MacFarlane’s Frida is a truly fabulous creation; believable, disarming, sinister and constantly wrongfooting both Ruth and the reader, and 2) I can’t think of another book that so beautifully captures the insecurities and frustrations of growing old and feeling at the mercy of others. This was a gripping, thought-provoking and ultimately devastating read.

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