February 7, 2017

Excerpt from a brand-new paperback: The Girl in the Red Coat — Carmel


When we first published Kate Hamer’s The Girl in the Red Coat last year, the response was immediate: the book became a massive hit, receiving praise from critics and endless love from booksellers and readers. In the New York TimesMichiko Kakutani wrote that “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… What kicks The Girl in the Red Coat out of the loop of familiarity is Ms. Hamer’s keen understanding of her two central characters: Carmel and her devastated mother, Beth, who narrate alternating chapters… Both emerge as individuals depicted with sympathy but also with unsparing emotional precision.”

The Girl in the Red Coat tells the heart-racing story of a kidnapping, alternating between the voice of Carmel, the young girl who goes missing, and Beth, her increasingly panicked mother. It’s also a psychologically rich investigation of a mother-daughter relationship, and a story of competing motivations — of the many decisions we make, and beliefs we hold, against our better judgments. And, as of today, it’s out in paperback!

To give you something to read as you wait in line for your copy, here’s an early passage from the book, narrated in the voice of Carmel, Beth’s daughter. She has emerged from a hiding spot at the festival where she’s gone missing, and, rather than finding her mother waiting for her, sees someone else she recognizes instead.

Mum’s voice turns sharp and cold like the fog. We cross the field to the biggest tent where they sell books. The fog comes in the tent with us like it really is smoke. There’s some thin rain too, the kind that gets you very wet, so everyone is coming inside. And I seem to be able to hear her better inside, exactly what her voice is saying: ‘Carmel, stay here. Stay so I can see you. I nearly lost sight of you then.’ When all I’ve been doing is stopping to look at books.

There’s tables piled high with them and she buys me a couple. While she’s paying I turn round and I’m facing the stomach of a man. I look up at his head and it’s the man from the tent and from the drawing again. He’s tall and old-fashioned in a way I can’t really explain. There’s nothing like a top hat or long hair or anything but he’s not quite the same as the other men around him, like he could have stepped out of olden times. He’s got on a white shirt very ironed and with no collar and a black rough suit. I smile up at him again but he’s gone.

I turn round back to Mum and she’s taking a plastic bag of books from the lady behind the stall.

But even inside she wants to hold my hand tight, tight every second. That’s OK at first but if I want to stop at a stall and hold a book it’s annoying.

‘Look.’ I point over. ‘Look over there.’ There’s puppets of knights and horses hanging up and jiggling about by themselves. I want to go right up to them and see how they work.

She doesn’t even hear and her hand’s feeling sweaty and slippery so I make mine stiff like a claw so it’ll be difficult to hold.

‘If you don’t hold my hand, we’ll have to go straight home.’ She’s sounding tired and cross and I’m really angry with her now for spoiling our lovely day. I try to nip the anger back in and explain.

‘It’s just that I want to look at books and I can’t because you won’t let me go.’

‘Well, we can stop holding hands when we get to a stall. How about that?’ She smiles a stiff little smile that’s not real.

I say, ‘Oh, alright then.’ I still feel cross with her because it’s not fun any more now I know she’s not enjoying it.

We come to a stall piled up high.

‘Let’s look at this one.’ I only say that because I want a rest from her.

I look at the books and they’re so babyish—Where’s Spot? and things like that. I don’t want to go back to being yanked about so I look very slowly and carefully. Spot with his bone, Spot’s day out. And the baby books make me feel even crosser but I carry on looking anyway, picking each one up.

‘Why d’you want to look at those, Carmel? They’re for little kids.’

‘I want to look at those fairy stories over there.’ I go moving up the table.

I turn over the pages of a fairy story book. The drawings aren’t that good but I look at each one anyway: the princess with her pea; Cinderella in rags; the wolf looking silly in a frilly red cloak. I move up to look at something else. People press around me and I’m being whacked on the back of my head with someone’s handbag.

I’m in such a bad mood now. It’s not often I feel like this and I don’t like it. It’s like everything’s wrong—especially me. Now I just want to be on my own. To go back to this morning in my room when the sky was blue and everything was lovely. Everyone has come into this tent now the storytelling has stopped for lunch and people want to buy something and get out of the rain. I’m getting so squashed I think the table is going to cut me in half.

Then I have an idea—to scrunch myself right down and walk like I saw a toad walk once, till I’m under the table. So I do—the tablecloth only comes halfway down but it feels free and safe and secret under there. I decide to look out for Mum’s boots that she’s got her jeans tucked into and then I’ll come out.

There’s a box of books and I take a peek into it and there’s piles of the book I used to read when I was little about a skeleton. I take one out and it’s not like when I was seeing Spot the dog. I don’t feel babyish, it’s like being back little again but I like the feeling it gives me this time. So I read Funnybones and look at the pictures. Sometimes I touch them too, I don’t know why.

When I get to the end I realise I might have been ages. But I’m not sure. Sometimes things happen so it feels like I’m not really there at all. It’s like the time the headmas- ter was talking about when I was sitting on the bench—looking at a tree blowing about—somehow my brain got slipped and in the world there was only me and the tree.

Then it slipped more and I was in a creepy dark tunnel where I’d been before but that day was the longest time it had happened for. Though I didn’t want to try and tell them about that.

And just now the same thing happened with Funnybones and there was the book and me but I didn’t go as far as the tunnel. I went back to being five for all that time and it had felt nice.

There’s less legs now so I crawl out. I’m a bit worried that I might have been a long time, I’m not sure. I look about and can’t see Mum.

I carry on picking up books. I don’t know what else to do. I should look for her, I decide. Maybe I’ll find her waiting for me at the end of the table but I get to the end and she’s not there. I stand there for a bit. Then I think, she must have got pushed back by the people and I try to look but I can’t find the back of where everyone’s standing. They just seem to melt into other people and it’s the opposite from earlier, I’m longing to see her now. My breath starts coming in and out quickly because I want to find her so much. I walk round the tent for a while. I go back to the same table where I lost her—twice, three times—and she’s still not there so I walk out of the tent and across the field.

Outside, I can hardly see the tops of the tents any more or the flags—just people coming out of the fog. And only if they’re close. All the sounds have gone thick and quiet like when I put my duvet over my head at home. I shove my hands deep into my pockets to try and stop me worrying and I think—our lovely day’s gone and we may as well go home now, back on the train. I stop, wondering what to do, and the people I can’t see, I can hear—muttering around me.

Then, stepping out of the fog right in front of me is the man from earlier with the round glasses. Because of the fog he comes out of nowhere, like a genie does.



The Girl in the Red Coat
 is now available in paperback. Buy your copy here or at your neighborhood independent bookstore.

 ISBN: 9781612195612


Kate Hamer is a winner of the Rhys Davies short story prize. She is the author of the novels The Girl in the Red Coat and The Doll Funeral, both available from Melville House.