sovay: (PJ Harvey: crow)
sovay ([personal profile] sovay) wrote2014-01-24 04:00 pm

It was not a ghost, or if it was one, then she was too

Helen Dunmore's The Greatcoat (2012) is a ghost story. It doesn't pretend to be anything but. Cold and isolated in the small East Riding town where she's moved with her new husband for his medical practice, obscurely afraid of their landlady who paces heavily overhead, night after night, as if walking the confines of an invisible cell, Isabel Carey drags an RAF officer's greatcoat out of the cupboard where she found it hidden like a selkie's skin and takes to sleeping under it—for warmth, for comfort in the long, empty nights when Philip's on call, for the strange soothing sense of melting away from herself. A young airman in an officer's cap and greatcoat is tapping at her window, saying her name like a teasing chime: Is-a-bel, Is-a-bel. It's the winter of 1952. The airfield at Kirby Minster is a wasteland of cracked concrete and broken wires, thistles in the deserted guardhouse and the doors of the mess huts banging open to the wind. Alec is a sharp, physical presence, as young as herself and urgent with war; she knows he can't exist now and he recognizes her at once. He smells of "Lifebuoy soap, cigarettes and engine oil" and drinks his way through the gin they keep for company. He calls her Is, Issy, darling, sweetheart. The longer he visits her, the more she remembers about him, about their moments stolen away from his duties and her husband, sex and sweetness, secrets, weariness, wanting, even as she remembers like the dual layers of a dream that Isabel Carey was twelve years old when Alec the skipper of K-Katie was flying his twenty-seventh op over Berlin. The trick of the story is one that's dear to my heart: who's haunting whom? Who's not letting go? And is it even possible to speak of letting go in a place where events have scarred themselves into the very earth, making a ghost of everyone who passes through that patch of space after: "It had imprinted itself too deep for time to wipe the landscape clean." Dunmore catches beautifully the sense of possession as archaeology, not so much stealing beneath the skin of the everyday as melting up through it, revealing itself to have been there all along. It's not a horror story, but it is haunting. The ending doesn't disappoint. I should read much, much more by this author. She more than makes up for not being able to afford the hardcover of Jeannette Winterson's The Daylight Gate (2012).

The streets are so white with road salt, they look snowier than the sidewalks; it's a weird, chalky, theatrical look. I noticed it mostly when walking home yesterday afternoon, after my singing lesson. The previous day, returning from my first appointment with the physical therapist, I had the fascinating experience of a breakdown in cultural protocols: I asked for directions to a bus stop from a man who was visibly annoyed that I hadn't just looked it up on my smartphone. I don't own a smartphone. He thought that was somehow irresponsible of me.

I don't even know what this is, but I love it.

I am going tonight with [ profile] rushthatspeaks to see Tarkovsky's The Mirror (1975) at the HFA. I do not expect that to fix anything about the slight dissociation of the day.

[identity profile] 2014-01-24 10:15 pm (UTC)(link)

I don't even know what this is, but I love it.


And fuck the smart phones.

[identity profile] 2014-01-25 06:07 pm (UTC)(link)

Write something for it?


[identity profile] 2014-01-26 12:12 am (UTC)(link)
It looks like a were-sea-dragon. Or a wif-sea-dragon.

[identity profile] 2014-01-24 11:09 pm (UTC)(link)
You're so right about the streets! I was thinking that myself, today--never mind salt cod or salt pork, we have salt tarmac. Mmmm, delicious.

This film The Greatcoat, This book The Greatcoat sounds **awesome**. I must, must see it. Like, now.

ETA: D'oh.

Edited 2014-01-24 23:29 (UTC)

[identity profile] 2014-01-26 02:24 am (UTC)(link)
It's at my library and I have already reserved it. I do so love the ability to reserve things in a few keystrokes. It makes me miss my mother more than ever when I think how she would have loved the internet.

[identity profile] 2014-01-26 03:13 pm (UTC)(link)
In summer it predates on the steaming hot tarmac patches that the highway department lays down to fill up winter potholes. Now what exactly it is is another question. Something large and sasquatch like, but conceived as a by-product of some industrial process?

also, I will read it.
gwynnega: (Default)

[personal profile] gwynnega 2014-01-24 11:25 pm (UTC)(link)
That book sounds amazing.

I don't remember much about The Mirror except that it was visually stunning and I loved it.
selidor: (Janus)

[personal profile] selidor 2014-01-25 06:30 am (UTC)(link)
I don't even know what this is, but I love it.

If lights were a face, and claws were a memory. An umbral shade.

[identity profile] 2014-01-25 12:55 pm (UTC)(link)
The Greatcoat sounds wonderful. I'll check for this in the local library. (The landlady sounds more disturbing than Alec does.) The art is wonderful too - I'm almost glad I can't see her face.

Smartphones are overrated. I'm sorry you had to suffer such a jerk.