The Girl in the Red Coat
Kate Hamer (Adult Fiction)
“We took the train that day. I wanted it to be special for Carmel and taking a train rather than the usual bus was a treat.” That is how the day started for newly single mom Beth and her daughter, Carmel. A day that Beth would look back on as Day 1. A day brimming with excitement and anticipation, but ending with every parent’s worst nightmare. On Day 1, Carmel disappeared during an outdoor festival. You wouldn’t think that an eight-year-old girl wearing a red coat could be so easily overlooked. Could so easily vanish. But a heavy mist had settled on the grounds, visibility was deteriorating, and just like that, Day 1 had started. While Beth begins an exhaustive search for her missing daughter, Carmel starts her own harrowing journey into a religious sect with a man she must trust to survive. As days turn into weeks and then months, will Beth ever see her little girl in the red coat again?
I have yet to read a modern British author’s work that I didn’t enjoy and Kate Hamer’s The Girl in the Red Coat is surely no exception. Hamer—born in Plymouth and raised in Pembrokeshire (she’s says she feels Welsh)—gives readers a thrilling story that alternates between the points of view of Beth and Carmel. As a parent myself, I’m not sure which of the two stories was more disturbing to read: a mother helpless and tormented by guilt over losing her child or a child being emotionally manipulated and fearful of losing her identity. Both stories keep the reader breathlessly captivated and drawn into a nightmare scenario that no one should have to bear. Hamer delves into the subtleties of loss, grief, and shame as Beth seeks personal absolution for Carmel’s disappearance. We feel her guilt when she completes an errand or leaves the house and only realizes later that she didn’t think of or search for Carmel during that time. Her stages of grief are excruciating and Hamer boldly lays it out so that we may process and endure it with Beth. In turn, she allows us equal time to share in Carmel’s isolation, confusion, and fear as she is ripped from everything she knows and loves and is forced to accept a new way life with a stranger whom she feels obligated to trust. Both Beth and Carmel feel an overwhelming amount of guilt and regret over their actions, yet they desperately cling to the smallest modicum of hope that they will once again be reunited.
The color red is used liberally throughout this book and represents different things. This story has a strong religious component so for Christians, red symbolizes atonement and sacrifice. Red is also an intense color representing extreme emotions such as hate, jealousy, and anger which we see through certain members of Carmel’s “surrogate” family. It’s the color of danger and Carmel’s beautifully unique coat unfortunately turns into a beacon for an unscrupulous stranger. For Carmel, it serves as an interesting color choice. She is fiercely drawn to this color whose main purpose is to make the wearer stand out, yet Carmel is desperate to break loose from her overprotective mother and often seeks out dark, far-off spaces to hide. For someone wanting to disappear, red wouldn’t be an obvious fashion option. But it would be this same color that would serve as Carmel’s anchor to holding on to her identity. Red would remind her that she is Carmel Wakeford and that red, above all else, is the color of strength, heart, and love.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
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