Billed as a modern ghost story, You Came Back by Christpher Coake is the tale of Mark Fife who, finally rebuilding his life after the death of his young son, Brendan, and the collapse of his marriage to Chloe, is suddenly confronted by the possibility that the spirit of his son might never have left their former home.

Seven years after Brendan’s death, Mark has finally pulled himself into manageable shape with a successfull job and a beautiful girlfriend, Allison. His relationship with his father, Sam, and his best friend, Lew, are back to normal and finally he can feel his life slotting back into place. Until one day, the current tenant of his former family home contacts him to say her son has seen Brendan’s ghost. This revelation shatters Mark’s carefully reconstructed life, dragging him back into his tortured relationship with his ex-wife and the weight of guilt both still carry. Torn by his desire and fear of finding out whether Brendan has really come back, Mark must find the strength to keep his sanity and his precious new life from fracturing.

Coake does a pretty good job exploring the psychological effect of such a revelation on Mark’s fragile mind from his still tenuous relationships with the people in his life. You Came Back is well-written and easy to read. Mark is an ordinary man with an ordinary job and social circle. He may not be the life and soul of the party but he has people around him who love him. And he confronts his dilemma in a way that probably most people in his position would: with a lot of soul searching. But Mark does come across as slightly weak and pathetic (I wanted to give him a good slap on many occasions) and I felt sorry for his girlfriend, Allison, especially when she realises that there are still unresolved issues from Mark’s former life.

The main problem with this novel is that it seems rather confused, like its protagonist, about whether it wanted to be a psychological thriller or not. To me, it felt as though I was promised a ghost story. And yes, we aren’t sure until the end. But the end fell rather flat and I felt robbed. I may have been expecting more of a horror story than a psychological study, but that is probably more due to my own personal expectations.

Coake was selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists in 2007 and has written a book of short stories, We’re In Trouble, which I wouldn’t mind perusing.

I’d like to thank Penguin Books for kindly sending me a copy of You Came Back to review.