on August 20, 2011
Yvvette Edwards's debut novel, A Cupboard Full of Coats, is an elegantly structured story of guilt and redemption. Fourteen years after her mother's murder, Jinx still blames herself for her role in the crime. She is living alone and in a state of emotional exile in London's East End, separated from her husband and young son, when Lemon arrives on her doorstep unexpectedly: "He just knocked, that was all, knocked the front door and waited, like he'd just come back with the paper from the corner shop, and the fourteen years since he'd last stood there, the fourteen years since the night I'd killed my mother, hadn't really happened at all." An old friend of Jinx's mom and her abusive husband, Lemon blames himself for the death. Lemon's arrival sparks "some kind of voyage of discovery" for Jinx and Lemon as they spend the next few days revisiting old wounds and reliving past events.
Jinx's first-person narration is emotionally raw and brutally honest. Her edgy voice is counterbalanced by Lemon's melodic, Caribbean diction. Over several days, the healing process begins as Lemon breaks down Jinx's self-defenses with home-cooked meals and other ministrations, including a foot massage that left Jinx a "shapeless, boneless heap of melted contentment." Edwards's vivid language captures the full range of human appetites and emotions with admirable precision. Jinx's dark thoughts are portrayed in clipped, brusque sentences--"I wanted to kill him. I'd been angry before in the past, but nothing on this scale ever. I wanted him dead"--but the passages of longing and desire are flowing and sensuous:
"He'd cooked oxtail and butter beans for dinner, with small round dumplings the size of marbles, brought it to me in my bedroom on a tray, waited while I adjusted the pillows behind my back and smoothed a level space on the duvet for him to put it down. ... The meat was so tender it fell from the bone, melting inside my mouth, the gravy spicy and so compelling I found myself unable to stop eating even when the plate was empty, sucking out every crevice of the bones, using my mouth like a bottom-feeder, my tongue like a young girl French-kissing an orange."
The narrative alternates between the present day interactions of Jinx and Lemon and Jinx's memories of her mother's last months of life, culminating in the events leading up to her violent death. A Cupboard Full of Coats is a masterfully structured novel, building suspense even though the ending is revealed on the first page. Impressive in its psychological complexity, this is one of the best novels I've read this year.
on September 3, 2011
This is a first person narrative taking place in two time frames, the present and fourteen years in the past. The narrator is a 30 year old woman, Jinx Jackson, who lives in London, but whose family is from the Caribbean. Jinx is the main narrator of the earlier sections, but we also hear the voice of Lemon, a friend of Jinx's mother's fiance. Lemon shows up at Jinx's house one day and insists on reliving the events of that earlier time, events culminating in the murder of Jinx's mother.
Jinx is emotionally closed down and unable to communicate with Lemon, her ex-husband or even her four-year old son. Her complete inability to bond with Sam, her son, is told with such complete lack of maternal empathy or love that I finished the scene of her aborted weekend with Sam intensely disliking the narrator. And then I realized with a shock that the author expected me to dislike her narrator, she was purposely withholding any facets of the narrator's personality that would create empathy. That is a very gutsy move early in an author's first book.
I never liked any of the characters in the book, except the brief view we have of Red, her ex-husband, but I didn't particularly care. I simply became intrigued to discover what the author would do with this unappealing narrator. And the answer is that the narrator slowly breaks through the immense self-protective shields created for self-protection as she listens to Lemon provide an alternative narrative of those earlier events.
The unfolding of events through alternate narratives is reasonably well done, though the narrative voice of the younger Jinx is an overly familiar coming of age saga that followed a predictably depressing story line. It is only in the interplay of that earlier narration with the older and emotionally shut-down Jinx that the story has originality. I don't think any particularly unique issues are raised in this book, but the handling of the narrative voices is very well structured. I would only hope that Ms. Edwards' next book might contain more likeable characters.
Every now and then I read a book that reminds me to be thankful for a loving and nurturing childhood, because a lack of one can often lead to a disturbing adult life. Yvvette Edwards' impressive debut novel, A Cupboard Full of Coats is such a book for me. The book is a tale of family dynamics, jealousy, tragic betrayals, and guilt that mesmerizes the reader through its searing language and characters drawn so well they fill spaces in the readers mind. Jinx, a 28 year-old woman who is haunted by her childhood, and the brutal murder of her mother 14 years ago, is the book's main narrator. While these events are always present in Jinx's mind, she has not spoken about them to anyone so lives her life in a fog, until a person from the past, Lemon, shows up at her door. With teasing language, Ms. Edwards hooks the reader from the beginning. "He just knocked, that was all, knocked the front door and waited, like he'd just come back with the paper from the corner store, and the fourteen years since he'd last stood there, the fourteen years since the night I'd killed my mother, hadn't really happened at all." Lemon is back because Berris, the mother's boyfriend, who was convicted of killing Jinx's mother, has just been released from prison and has asked Lemon to forgive him. Lemon has his own demons and needs for Jinx to forgive him for past transgressions. Jinx does let Lemon in, and over the course of three days, as the stories goes back forth between the present and the past we are told a tale that will test the limits of forgiveness.
As the truth reluctantly unfurls, and the interactions of Jinx, Berris, Lemon, and the mother are exposed, the reader is treated to lush descriptions of Caribbean food and the lifestyle of the Caribbean immigrants living in the East End of London. The use of food to nourish both the body and the spirit is a strong technique of this book. But, under this facade of gaiety and community, is the darker subject of domestic violence. This is never an acceptable behavior, and while Ms. Edwards does not shy away from the nasty consequences, she does an excellent job of stripping the characters to the core to reveal their warts.
Compelling narrative combined with strong storytelling and vividly flawed yet interesting characters will captivate the reader until the last page. I look forward to reading future works by the author. I recommend this book to readers of literary fiction who enjoy stories of the immigrant experience and family dynamics.
Reviewed by Beverly
APOOO Literary Book Reviews
on August 19, 2011
Jinx is a beautiful but deeply troubled east Londoner born to Caribbean immigrants, whose life was shattered 14 years ago when her mother Joy was brutally murdered by Berris, her second husband and Jinx's stepfather. Jinx blames her own jealousy and spite for her mother's murder, and has shut herself off from everyone, including her ex-husband and their young son, until the day that Lemon, Berris' best friend and a man she has admired since she first met him as a teenager, knocks on her front door. Lemon seeks to makes amends for his role in her mother's murder, now that Berris has just completed his prison sentence. During an intense weekend, filled with deep emotions and tempered by Lemon's irresistible cooked meals, the two relive their own separate and interlinked past histories, the passionate but troubled relationship between Berris and Joy, and the seemingly benign but malicious acts that led to Joy's murder.
A Cupboard Full of Coats is an intense and gripping debut novel which was an interesting selection for the Booker Prize longlist, which is highly recommended.
on September 29, 2013
bought this book after reading good reviews on goodreads. while characters were well developed, book lacked much in way of plot, and left me, 30 days after reading it, at a loss to readlly even describe the story line....
on April 17, 2016
This book was interesting; and different, but that isn't always a good thing. Several points were never explained, and the ending left me wanting. There were parts about food and grooming that just went on and on, .....and on. I ended up skimming over parts so I could actually get to it! The author constantly switched from past to present, and it became hard to tell which was which sometimes. It just didn't impress me, and I was disappointed in the whole thing, really. I see many glowing reviews on this book, so I guess I just didn't "get it". But, on to the next book, I say!
on July 11, 2012
Oh my, what a debut!
This author is someone to follow. What a gift with words; so perfectly constructed characters. The whole atmosphere she creates is so lyrical, so many beautiful sentences, I had to highlight and take notes on my kindle almost in every page.
There are points through the novel where you can actually smell the food she's describing; listen to Lemon with his thick accent; cry with Jinx.
Abuse and passion crimes, unfortunately, are not new themes to many women; the way they are told here is what makes all the difference.
There's a beautiful Brazilian song that says, in Portuguese, something like: "Certain songs I listen to/fit so well inside of me/ that I have got to ask/ How I'm not the one who wrote it*". Well, this is another book that I'd love to have written. :D However, I don't think anyone else would have the sensibility and talent to have written this story.
A masterpiece by Yvvette Edwards.
She's writing a second book now, and I cannot wait to read it!
on August 30, 2011
In this impressive first novel, one of the titles on the 2011 Man Booker Prize longlist, Yvvette Edwards creates a stirring tale of a thirty year old woman consumed by feelings of guilt. She blames herself for the murder of her mother fourteen years ago. The novel presents the tale of Jinx; the narrator; her mother, the mother's violent boyfriend Berris, and Lemon, a close friend of the mother and her boyfriend. Edwards may be a first time novelist, but there is nothing of the novice in the telling of this story. She artfully employs the local argot favored by the three, natives of Montserrat. Effortlessly going back and forth in time, she presents herself as an adolescent, as well as an adult, and how guilt has prevented her from being the person she would prefer to be. Although some of the narration is a bit overdone, it does have a momentum that keeps the reader involved. There are some particularly harrowing, deeply disturbing scenes within the book, but they are all in keeping with the author's theme. Also, at the end, the narrator, and the reader, experience a feeling of deliverance. The next installment of the narrator's life is bound to be much happier and fulfilling.
on October 13, 2012
This was a book that was outside my comfort zone. Its characters belong to places and cultures that I've never been or never encountered, so I was looking forward to learning something about a different way of life. I didn't know what to expect from the narrative, since its synopsis implies an emotional drama but its cover art is utterly banal. I kept an open mind when it came to plot and style -- but I was still disappointed by A Cupboard Full of Coats.
That violent murder mentioned in the synopsis? You'd never know that was a plot point without first reading the back of the book. In the very first paragraph the narrator, Jinx, mentions that she killed her mother fourteen years ago. But given the tone of the story and the way it reads, I thought her death was an instance of euthanasia, possibly after a long illness, and not a violent murder.
The style of narration constantly and casually alienates the reader from the key issues of the narrative. Written in first person from Jinx's perspective, the book is limited to what Jinx knows, feels, and deigns to tell the reader. She doesn't tell outsiders much. There are endless paragraphs about how she wears her makeup, how the walls in her house are papered, how to make soup, etc., but basic questions aren't answered in a timely fashion -- like who the heck is Lemon? He shows up in the first page of the book after a long absence. Clearly he and Jinx have some sort of complicated history, but none of that is explained to the reader. While Jinx waxes poetic about home decor and the basics of showering, her audience is left to wonder what is going on between her and Lemon and why anyone should care. Who is this Berris that they keep mentioning so cryptically? How are any of these people connected? The book conceals its raison d'être, and therefore bores its reader.
As a narrator and protagonist, it was hard to like Jinx. She has a pessimistic outlook and isn't a very good person. Her relationship with her four year old son, for example, is strained because Jinx just isn't good at being a mother. She just can't relate to her kid and is easily frustrated or baffled by his behaviour. He, in turn, rejects his mother and feeds her resentment by attaching himself to every adult except her. It's easy to sympathize with how difficult it is to be a parent, but Jinx's habit of easily giving up on anything that is difficult, including her son, makes her a bit repulsive as a person.
The one truly good thing about this book is Edwards' knack for infusing her scenes with the flavours of the Caribbean. It permeates dialogue, food, mannerisms, etc., and makes the text richer. Unfortunately these things seemed to be more of a distraction than anything else at times, what with all the unanswered questions and unexplained circumstances vying for the reader's attention.
Overall A Cupboard Full of Coats was a frustrating book, and not one that I would recommend to fans of contemporary, emotionally charged fiction.
on November 6, 2011
The beginning of A Cupboard Full of Coats did not pull me into it. Jinx kept herself hidden. She was awkward and unloving to her 4 year old child, unwelcoming to Lemon. She just seemed to be living without any feelings. Lemon first spoke in his immigrant patois but finished his sentences in common everyday English so I didn't think he was convincing.
However, gradually, quite slowly the plot began unfurling, perhaps it was with the Caribbean cooking sections. As Jinx became alive to us it was with extraordinary guilt. Love hate for her mother,indifference for her child,for Lemon a peculiar wanting.
However, as the story unfolded it became deep, even like a mystery. I wanted to see the ending, hoping for Jinx's life to have a happy ending.
I liked the book and hope to read more of Edward's writings.