The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore


There's a fantasy I invented to scare myself when I was a kid. Every night when I went to bed, just before I fell asleep, I thought about waking up in another time and place. What if I wake up somewhere else, in another time? Would I be able to come back? It was never really a question because it never happened, but what if ... The Greatcoat isn't exactly that, but it is a story where past meets present. 

Isabel is a young doctor's wife, living in new surroundings, in a rented apartment she doesn't like. On the first floor lives the landlady Isabel resents. She thinks people are whispering behind her back every time she goes to the shops. Isabel isn't much of a housewife, she's not used to the life she found herself in. Philip, her husband is either in surgery or visiting patients, so she spends much of her time alone. She's dissatisfied, lonely and always cold. At night she listens to the landlady walking to the window and back for hours. One evening she finds an old army greatcoat at the back of a closet and decides to use it as a blanket. She feels the warmth of the greatcoat spread through her. She's not cold anymore, but it's not just the warmth the greatcoat brings. One night Isabel is awoken by somebody tapping at the window pane. There's an air force officer standing outside. She watches him silently say her name. There's something scary and strangely erotic at the same time, watching a man on the other side of the window say your name.

The Greatcoat is a love story and a paranormal mystery. It reminded me of The Twilight Zone. I liked Helen Dunmore's writing, how she weaves the past with the present. There are a lot of Isabel's memories of her life before marriage. Isabel and Philip seemed like two people who expected something else than what they got form each other. I found Alec, the air force pilot a tragic figure, reliving the same event over and over again. And the resented landlady turned out to be quite an important character. I saw The Greatcoat as a two part story. In the first part Isabel is a lonely woman, welcoming the attentions of an officer from another time, slowly sinking into the love affair. But then comes the time when Isabel gets what she wants and here I see the second part of the story. She and Philip live in their own house and have a baby. She doesn't want the greatcoat and Alec anymore, but one day both catch up with her. At the end, Isabel is relieved that the past was finally put to rest. Or was it? The last sentence makes me wonder: "The air was still, but down on the grass the greatcoat's heavy cloth rippled as if a night wind was walking under it." 

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Ko sem bila majhna, sem velikokrat strašila samo sebe. Očitno nisem potrebovala nikogar drugega, ki bi to počel namesto mene, saj je domišljija precej uporabna reč. Zvečer pred spanjem, sem se velikokrat spraševala kaj bi se zgodilo, če bi se zjutraj zbudila v drugem času, nekje drugje. Kaj če ne bi mogla priti nazaj? Pravzaprav to nikoli ni bilo vprašanje, ker se nikoli nisem zbudila drugje. Pa vendar ... The Greatcoat (Vojaški plašč?) ni taka zgodba, se pa v njej srečujeta preteklost in sedanjost.

Isabel je mlada zdravnikova žena, ki živi v novem okolju, v najetem stanovanju, ki ji ni všeč. V zgornjem nadstropju živi najemodajalka, ki je Isabel ne mara. Kadar koli gre ven, na trg ali v trgovino misli, da ljudje šepetajo za njenim hrbtom. Isabel ni posebno dobra gospodinja, niti ni vajena življenja, v katerem se je znašla. Njen mož Philip je večino časa v ordinaciji, popoldne pa pogosto obiskuje paciente, tako da je Isabel velikokrat sama. Ni zadovoljna s takim življenjem, osamljena je in nenehno jo zebe. Ponoči posluša najemodajalko kako ure in ure hodi po sobi. Nekega večera v omari najde star vojaški plašč, ki ga uporabi namesto odeje, vendar pa toplota ni edino, kar ji plašč prinese. Ponoči jo zbudi trkanje na šipo. Zunaj stoji Alec, vojaški pilot, ki nemo izgovori njeno ime. Nekaj strašljivega in hkrati čudaško erotičnega je v tem, da gleda moškega, ki na drugi strani okna izgovori njeno ime.

Vojaški plašč je deloma paranormalna, deloma ljubezenska zgodba. Po svoje me je spomnila na Območje somraka. Všeč mi je bil avtoričin slog pisanja, kako prepleta preteklost s sedanjostjo. Velikokrat beremo o Isabelinih spominih na življenje med vojno in pred poroko. Isabel in Philip se mi zdita kot človeka, ki sta drug od drugega pričakovala nekaj drugega, kot sta v skupnem življenju dobila. Alec je ujet v preteklost, ki jo doživlja znova in znova. Najemodajalka, ki je Isabel ne mara pa je veliko bolj pomembna oseba, kot je videti na začetku. Zgodba je razdeljena na dva dela, čeprav formalno ni tako napisana. V prvem delu je Isabel osamljena ženska, ki ji ustreza Alecova pozornost in počasi zdrsne v ljubezensko razmerje. Vendar pa pride čas, ko Isabel dobi to, kar si je želela in tu se začne drugi del zgodbe. Z možem in otrokom živi v lastni hiši. V novem življenju ni več prostora ne za plašč ne za Aleca. Kljub temu pa jo oba dohitita. Na koncu je Isabel olajšana, da se je preteklost postavila na svoje mesto. Čeprav ... zadnji stavek mi vzbuja dvome: "Čeprav je bil zrak negiben, je plašč na travi vzvaloval kot da bi pod njim hodil nočni veter."



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