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The Girl in the Red Coat
by Kate Hamer
Hardcover : 336 pages
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• Costa Book Award for First Novel finalist
• Dagger Award finalist
"Kate Hamer’s gripping debut novel immediately recalls the explosion of similarly titled books and movies, from Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the ...
• An Amazon Best Book of the Year for 2016
• Costa Book Award for First Novel finalist
• Dagger Award finalist
"Kate Hamer’s gripping debut novel immediately recalls the explosion of similarly titled books and movies, from Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, to The Girl on the Train to Gone Girl … "—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Keeps the reader turning pages at a frantic clip... What’s most powerful here is not whodunnit, or even why, but how this mother and daughter bear their separation, and the stories they tell themselves to help endure it.” —Celeste Ng (Everything I Never Told You)
“Compulsively readable...Beautifully written and unpredictable, I had to stop myself racing to the end to find out what happened.” —Rosamund Lupton (Sister)
“Both gripping and sensitive — beautifully written, it is a compulsive, aching story full of loss and redemption.” —Lisa Ballantyne (The Guilty One)
"Hamer’s dark tale of the lost and found is nearly impossible to put down.” —Booklist
Newly single mom Beth has one constant, gnawing worry: that her dreamy eight-year-old daughter, Carmel, who has a tendency to wander off, will one day go missing.
And then one day, it happens: On a Saturday morning thick with fog, Beth takes Carmel to a local outdoor festival, they get separated in the crowd, and Carmel is gone.
Shattered, Beth sets herself on the grim and lonely mission to find her daughter, keeping on relentlessly even as the authorities tell her that Carmel may be gone for good.
Carmel, meanwhile, is on a strange and harrowing journey of her own—to a totally unexpected place that requires her to live by her wits, while trying desperately to keep in her head, at all times, a vision of her mother …
Alternating between Beth’s story and Carmel’s, and written in gripping prose that won’t let go, The Girl in the Red Coat—like Emma Donoghue’s Room and M. L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans—is an utterly immersive story that’s impossible to put down . . . and impossible to forget.
Editorial ReviewAn Amazon Best Book of February 2016: It’s every parent’s nightmare: Beth, a single mother, takes her 8-year-old daughter, Carmel, to a local festival for some fun and frivolity and she vanishes. What follows is an unusual and terrifying journey for them both. Kate Hamer’s sophisticated debut, The Girl in the Red Coat, is no ordinary whodunit, nor does it resort to over-the-top prurience to get under your skin. In many ways, this makes it even more chilling, as Hamer masterfully manipulates the reader into anticipating the worst with each (frantically) turned page. But ultimately it’s two parallel tales of survival: How does Beth press on in the face of paralyzing shame and worry? How does Carmel keep her wits about her in a frightening and complex situation beyond her comprehension? What gives this novel unexpected power and heart are the ways in which they find to hold onto themselves. --Erin Kodicek
ExcerptBeth Day 1 It will be like the day in the maze, I told myself. I’ll run round this field looking, scared witless, but we’ll find each other eventually. The fog had grown cold and dense and I kept stumbling on empty plastic bottles and bumpy ground. ‘Carmel,’ I yelled at the top of my voice, ‘where are you?’ I kept yelling into the fog but it never answered. It just sucked up my voice into its blankness. I wanted more than anything to catch a glimpse of that red, like a poppy standing proud in a cornfield. But there was just a jumble of colour, made milky, as if looking through a wedding veil. I thought I’d go to the entrance and ask for help: an announcement on the tannoy. Or to the St John Ambulance in case she’d fallen over and was there right now having a plaster put on her knee while someone in uniform was saying, ‘All done. Now then, let’s find your mum.’ People were getting fed up and wanting to leave. The field was emptying, they were all at the entrance—a temporary arch made out of plywood with shapes cut into it to look like battlements—so I had to push past them. I knocked against the bodies without caring, muttering, ‘I’ve lost my little girl,’ over my shoulder to the ‘watch its.’ Several people asked if I was alright but I couldn’t stop to answer, I was too intent. ‘Carmel, where are you, where are you?’ The ticket offices next to the arch were empty, the organisers probably guessing that no one would arrive so late in the day, so I had to find my way back again, all the time shouting, ‘Carmel, Carmel,’ till my voice was hoarse. I found my way back into the tent where I’d last seen her. It’s too soon, I told myself, it’s too soon to panic. Stop it. Stop it now. The trestle table where she’d stood was half empty—many of the books sold. I’d had the idea of asking the man with the till if he’d seen her but there was nobody there now. The thought came to me that the remaining books left out like this could so easily be stolen. ‘Carmel,’ I called. ‘Where are you?’?A man put his hand on my arm. ‘What’s the matter, love?’ ‘My little girl. I can’t find her.’ I realised my eyes were wet and stopped for a moment this time.?‘Oh dear. Dear. You need to get to the main tent. They’ll help you. She’s probably waiting there for you.’ ‘Yes—thank you. Thank you. Where is it?’ ‘Ask one of the staff—they’ll tell you.’? I rubbed at my eyes. ‘Don’t worry, love,’ he said. ‘You’ll find her. Mine were always getting lost when they were young.’ I took his advice and went outside to look for staff. He’s right, I thought. There must be an official tent or a place for lost children. But the fog was lacing the air so now it was hard to see the tents any more. Panic gripped my insides again. Even among so many other people I started to feel alone in some kind of new and terrible reality. What if, what if . . . I never see her again? No. No, not that. I stumbled, then righted myself. Stop thinking it.? I tried to yell again but my voice had disappeared into a squeak and a sudden tide of terror washed over me. I reached out and wordlessly gripped a woman’s bright red sleeve. ‘Hey, get off,’ she said. ‘Get off me.’ ?She shook me off and got swallowed up into the fog. Then one of the men on stilts walked right past me, his stilts close enough to touch. I could feel my voice re-gathering inside my throat in a shout—‘Please, help me. Help.’ I didn’t care any more what I said or if I sounded mad and frantic. The stilts paused and started to move on so I shouted again and they stopped and the next minute a young man with cornrows all over his scalp had jumped down and was standing right next to me. ‘Did you ask for help?’ His clothes were made of patchwork and underneath the multi-coloured jacket his shoulders were strong, like he was active all day. I remembered the man with the cloth cap in the maze and I felt relief. The stilts man was part of the day, of the organisation. He could tell me where I needed to go. ‘My little girl, I’ve lost her,’ I said. ‘Where did you see her last?’? ‘In the place where they’re selling the books.’? ‘I bet a lot of people are getting lost in this. It’s bad luck it should happen today when we’ve been planning it for so long. A sea mist is always the worst. It must have been the hot weather this morning that brought it on.’ It made me feel a bit better when he said he expected lots of people were getting lost and separated, like this was just a mishap that would be sorted out. ‘I’ll take you to the admin tent and they can put a tannoy call out. You two’ll be glad to get home when you find her.’ Then he was guiding me across the field with his stilts tucked under his arm. Inside the tent the fog had crept in and lay low on the ground so it got kicked up into little clouds as we walked. There was a woman with bright dyed red hair—the kind of red not even meant to look real—walking up and down and speaking into a walkie-talkie and I noticed a flap of brown paper had got stuck to the heel of her boot. Across the squashed grass of the floor people were packing things away in boxes. The man in patchwork steered me up towards the red-haired walkie-talkie woman. ‘This lady has lost her daughter,’ he said. He went away and came back with a fold-up chair for me to sit on. But I didn’t want to sit down. She looked up with sharp blue eyes and reluctantly re-sheathed the walkie-talkie in a leather holder on her belt that looked like it was meant for carrying guns. ‘I expect she’s just got lost in the crowds. How long is it since you’ve seen her?’ Silver flickered from her tongue as she spoke from the piercing there. She sounded like this losing of a daughter was nothing more than a pernickety nuisance and could be sorted out with a snap of her fingers—meaning she could get on with something more important. I looked at my watch and with a burning spurt of real sickness in my throat I realised it must have been just over an hour. ‘Ages, an hour and a half. At least.’ I wanted to exaggerate because I sensed she wasn’t taking it seriously enough, that she didn’t have a daughter and thought that kids just ran off all the time. She was shifting a foot around and suddenly became conscious of the paper stuck to her heel. With a movement like a ballerina she forked a leg behind her, holding her foot with one hand and peeling off the paper with the other. When she was done she said, ‘I can put out an announcement.’ ‘Please. Could you? Her name’s Carmel and she’s wearing a red duffel coat.’ ‘How old is she?’?‘She’s eight. Eight years old.’? So she walked off to where a tannoy system was set up on a trestle table and the man with cornrows looked at me with kind big eyes and said, ‘Don’t worry too much. It’s got a bit chaotic because of the weather.’ I nodded at him dumbly. I heard an electric gasp as the machine was switched on and then the woman’s voice booming from the outside. ‘Public announcement. Lost child. There’s a lost child. Name of Carmel. Red coat. Eight years old. If you find a lost child please bring them to the large tent at the back of the field. Lost child . . .’ view abbreviated excerpt only...
Discussion QuestionsFairy tales play an important role throughout The Girl in the Red Coat. Discuss the fairy tale imagery (the woods, the significance of Carmel’s red coat) and how it elevates the novel into the realm of the supernatural. Did this affect your reading of the story?
Families, or, more importantly, family difficulties, are central to The Girl in the Red Coat. What are the various family dynamics at work? Where are there parallels and where are there inconsistencies?
How does Beth handle the loss of her daughter over the course of the novel? Did you notice examples of “tiny actions” that helped her cope? How do those actions compare to the more major developments in Carmel’s disappearance?
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