Wednesday 4 February 2015

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

She is the missing girl. But she doesn't know she's lost.
Carmel Wakeford becomes separated from her mother at a local children's festival, and is found by a man who claims to be her estranged grandfather. He tells her that her mother has had an accident and that she is to live with him for now. As days become weeks with her new family, 8-year-old Carmel realises that this man believes she has a special gift...
While her mother desperately tries to find her, Carmel embarks on an extraordinary journey, one that will make her question who she is - and who she might become.

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer is published by Faber & Faber in hardback on 5 March 2015 and is the author's debut novel.

This book is one of those that needs to be read in huge chunks, just a few pages here and there does not work. It took me quite a while to get totally immersed into this story as I just didn't have time to sit down and lose myself in it and so the first few chapters were snatched reads. When I finally got the opportunity to have a couple of hours reading time I soon became wholly involved in the lives of Beth and Carmel.

The author has taken a huge gamble by attempting to tell this story in two very distinct voices, and although both Beth and Carmel have a sort of other-wordly feel about them, Kate Hamer has succeeded in creating two characters who really do come alive, who are realistic and are consistent.

Carmel is eight years old, she lives with her mother Beth. Beth is struggling with life as a single mother, she wants to do her very best for Carmel, she wants to make sure that her small daughter has everything that she wants, but it's not easy. Carmel is a bright and questioning young child, she has an awareness that makes her appear for more mature than her years and often displays frustration towards her mother.

Beth and Carmel visit a children's festival, the event is crowded with tents and stalls and attractions and Carmel's frustration at not being allowed to wander freely grows. Beth worries that she will lose Carmel in the crowd, after all it wouldn't be the first time that she has wandered off alone. When Beth's fears become reality and she searches for a glimpse of that red coat, the story really begins.

The reader follows both Beth and Carmel through the following five years as Carmel crosses continents and matures and Beth lives in hope, blaming herself and questioning everything and everyone.

The Girl in the Red Coat is a difficult book to define, not that I think every book has to be labelled, not at all. The story is one of difficult family relationships, especially the mother-daughter bond with its complexities, dangers and unconditional love. It can also be seen as a coming-of-age story, albeit in a unusual manner; Carmel's voice matures throughout the story, growing with her as her world expands.  There is the mystery element and a splash of crime thriller too.

Complex, clever, unusual and incredibly well-crafted, The Girl in the Red Coat is a story that will stay in the reader's head for quite a while after the last page is turned. I enjoyed this but will admit that there were times when I found it just a little hard going, especially at the beginning when I struggled with the two very separate voices. I have questions about the final chapter, but I know that many readers will be incredibly pleased with the outcome - I'd certainly be interested to read the author's thoughts on what happens next.

My thanks to Sophie from Faber & Faber who sent my copy for review.

Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire. She did a Creative Writing MA at Aberystwyth University and the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. She won the Rhys Davies short story award in 2011 and her winning story was read out on BBC Radio 4. She has recently been awarded a Literature Wales bursary. She lives in Cardiff with her husband and two children.  The Girl in the Red Coat (March 2015) is her first novel.

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