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. (Excerpt, page 1)
How can that sentence not draw you in? A Cupboard Full of Coats is a powerfully intense novel that was longlisted for the Booker, shortlisted for the Commonwealth, and a Kirkus Book of the Year. And it deserves all its accolades three times over.
Jinx is a broken, lost woman in her early thirties. She can’t even manage to have a relationship with her small son so he lives with his father and endures awkward visits a few weekends a year. When Lemon shows up on her doorstep after an absence of fourteen years, she’s forced to face the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death and the feelings she’s had for this man since she was sixteen. The next three days are filled with an intense purging of truth and emotion, a slow unraveling of the sordid details, and the eventual acceptance and movement forward towards something resembling hope.
I know that plot outline is extremely vague, but this book really isn’t about the plot. This book is about people, characters, and their complex relationships. Edwards’s novel is slow burning – you know something dreadful happened, but the details are so very slowly given away that you never have a full hand until the final page. And it’s done remarkably well. To be honest, I’m not sure there’s a single likable or completely sympathetic character in this story, but you will feel tremendous emotion for all of them. It’s a story about a woman facing the truth of her relationship with her mother in order to have a relationship with her son.
A Cupboard Full of Coats is also extremely hard to read, but just as hard not to read – if that makes sense. This story portrays violence and domestic abuse in a way that made me squench up my face subconsciously until it hurt. I’d often have to stop and take a break, especially if I felt something horrendous was coming up in the next few pages. I had to prepare myself for something that you really can’t ever prepare yourself for. It almost felt like Berris was coming to get me – that just reading this story was leaving me with the bruises. So brace yourself for the realism.
On a less dramatic note, I loved the blending of cultures in this novel. The West Indies immigrants growing up in London was fascinating and well drawn – I could taste the Caribbean spices and hear the accents. The dialogue is definitely one of the novel’s strengths as is the simplistic, yet enthralling prose that flows from Edwards so seamlessly. A few times the narrative jumped between past and present a bit too abruptly and with no indication that we had gone from 16 year old Jinx back to 30 year old Jinx, but that’s just me being picky.
A Cupboard Full of Coats earned a full 5 star rating from me and honestly, I’m mostly speechless about my feelings for it right now. It’s a dark, bleak, intense, powerful read that I highly recommend and would absolutely love to reread one day. This is the kind of story that makes me glad I do TLC Book Tours!
Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for having me on tour! I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. Please visit the other tours here!