The Girl in the Red Coat – Kate Hamer

Finally finished it! This is another one where there’s really only so much I can give away without going into spoilers so another fairly short review.

The Girl in the Red Coat is the debut novel by Kate Hamer and it’s pretty good. Like The Quality of Silence, we are given two narrators, a mother and daughter, though this time the two are telling different stories.

Beth has been relatively recently left by her husband for a younger woman, and is left with her daughter, Carmel. Carmel is a very clever little girl and we first meet her at the age of eight. The relationship between the mother and daughter is first explored through a few outings the two go on where Carmel manages to get lost. The impression given through the split narrative is that Carmel seems to do this to herself, being fond of her own company and smart enough to know she’s not in any real danger, but not empathic enough to realise how much distress she causes her mother. There is another layer to this whereby Hamer seems to imply that Beth feels guilty when Carmel finally does vanish because she wonders if she hasn’t in some way been trying to lose her daughter all along, taking her on day trips to places like mazes and busy festivals.

Without giving away any more than you get on the blurb, Carmel is taken by a man who believes she is gifted, and it’s rather ambiguous whether or not he is right. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter; he kidnaps a child and exploits her, telling her a whole series of lies that Carmel struggles to see through.

I found Beth’s narrative really quite heartbreaking and quite convincing too. She describes the journey she goes through having lost a child. The frustration and guilt she feels cripples her ability to function properly for a long time (and we’re very aware of how long given that her chapters are headed by how many days Carmel has been gone) but she slowly begins to make steps towards recovery. She comes across as very conflicted and very… empty, but then anything else would be unbelievable.

Carmel’s narrative shows her growing up but at the same time you can see how sheltered her upbringing has been. She remains quite naïve throughout and almost entirely reliant upon others. She shows she has some instinct regarding new people, but is never really in a strong enough position to act upon these instincts. She is pretty accepting of some fairly extreme things but the point is she is young and she is then raised believing these lies with no opportunity to discover the truth. She is shown to be strong though. She manages to hold onto her identity throughout even when everyone around her is trying to turn her into someone else.

In all, this book is not going to change your life but it is an entertaining, really quite entertaining read. Saying that, the critic quotes on my copy talk about being completely unable to put it down and I have certainly experienced that in the past, but not so much here. When I had time to sit and read, I would enjoy what I got through, but didn’t have much of an issue with putting it down.

I think what it was lacking was a real sense of danger. It is hinted at as there are whispers of another girl before Carmel, but it’s never really stated what happened to her and so as a reader you struggle to real imagine the dark side of what could happen to Carmel. What I’m trying to say I suppose is that I spent a long time waiting for a twist that never really came along. I’m not saying it’s not a good read because it was, but there’s nothing overly weighty about it. Obviously it’s very poignant in the sense that it deals with an abducted child and the family left behind, but because we hear from said missing child, we readers are not left without her in the way the characters are.

I would recommend this if you’re looking for something that’s not too taxing but at the same time, is quite interesting. If I were doing a star rating, it’d be a three out of five.

Currently Reading:
Book: None right now. Need recommendations.
Audio: The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (Volume 1) by Stephen King.

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