‘Something of a flat read’ – You Came Back by Christopher Coake

Mark is a graphic designer who once upon a time had a drinking habit as a result of the fact that his young son, Brendan, fell down the stairs and broke his neck and died. Mark’s marriage to Chloe imploded, largely due to the fact that she blamed Mark for their son’s death (he was sat in the lounge, drinking, watching a ball-game while Brendan sulked upstairs, Mark having lost his rag, the boy plotting to run away from home with a heavy rucksack full of books and clothes). Accidents happen, though, and Mark is busy rebuilding his life, in a new house, in a new relationship with a bright, attractive girl called Allie. And then Mark is approached by a woman called Connie who is living in his and Chloe’s old house. Connie has a shocking revelation: she and her son have seen Brendan’s ghost.

The ghost bomb drops in the same week that Mark proposes to Allie. At first he doesn’t know what to do. Should he tell Allie? Should he tell Chloe? Should he tell his dad Sam? Should he tell his best mate Lew? He one hundred per cent does not believe in ghosts so he avoids Connie and refuses to listen to what she has to say. But then Connie manages to contact Chloe and Chloe does believe, first of all haranguing Mark for not telling her about the ghost and then, when she herself has been visited by him and had her ‘experience’, imploring him to come and see for himself. Of course all of this places tremendous pressure on Mark and he starts drinking again and he and Allie stop seeing eye-to-eye and gradually the one hundred per cent certainty starts to waver.

You Came Back is, disappointingly, something of a flat read. I say disappointingly because Coake’s debut short story collection, We’re in Trouble was genuinely terrific. The prose lacks precision and Coake feels the need to take the reader with him through every twist and turn (if Mark is on a journey, Coake never cuts to the destination, never says ‘When we arrived…’, always matches his characters step for step). It feels like the kind of book that could have only been improved by cutting back. If it had clocked in at 200 pages rather than 400, we might be telling a different story (one, say, that bore resemblance to Sara Gran’s analytical supernatural gem, Come Closer). As it is, what we get is, this happened, this happened, then this happened, climaxing with well, it was all rather a lot of fuss about nothing really wasn’t it?

Any Cop?: A debut novel that doesn’t live up to the promise of his short stories. Disappointing.

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