A Cupboard Full of Coats

Last week I attended the book bloggers convention, which closed out 2011’s BookExpo, and felt like something of an amateur compared to the hordes of genre-specific young people (mainly YA, middle grade and children’s reviewers) who had half a million followers and sophisticated streams of ARCs (advanced reader’s copies) coming in. As readers of this blog know, I review what I like, with an emphasis on literary fiction, writing about writing, and anything to do with Shakespeare.

One set of galleys I did get my hands on was a first novel, A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards, an accomplished work following Jinx, a woman of West Indian descent living in London as she finally comes to terms with the role she played in the murder of her mother fourteen years earlier. As the novel opens, the murderer has just been released from prison, but it will take Jinx the rest of the novel to similarly liberate herself.

She was the only child of a poor, uneducated Montserratian land worker and his semi-literate wife,” Jinx writes of her mother. “Everything I know about them I learned from her, and the sum of everything she said was that they could not have worshipped God himself more than they worshipped the ground she walked on. Full stop.

She was too beautiful to make her own way to and from school at a time when every other child in the country was doing it, or to cook or clean or shop or carry, or even to amass a single useful life skill.

Orphaned at 17, Jinx’s mother is rescued by Mr. Jackson, three times her age, who, “though half-blind from glaucoma . . . still had vision enough to see that my mother was too beautiful to weep broken-hearted, forlorn in her single bed . . . She was too beautiful for anything but the very best, and that was all she had because Mr. Jackson doted on her.”

This vivid passage, laid out early in the novel, encapsulates the complicated blend of anger, envy, love and bereavement that haunts and hampers Jinx. When Mr. Jackson (Jinx’s father) dies early in Jinx’s childhood, Jinx has her mother all to herself until she hits her teens and her mother meets up with the jealous, violent Berris. Jinx’s mother abandons her, first figuratively, in the thrall of passion and violence, and then literally, when she is killed. Having inherited neither her mother’s beauty nor her passivity, Jinx’s road to maturity and motherhood has played out far differently, and her coming to terms with what she has done and who she has become resolves itself in a surprisingly tender conclusion.

Originally published  Friday, June 3, 2011

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