|A Cupboard full of coats|
First Published in: 2011
A first-person narrative of a 30-year old woman who revisits her mother’s murder fourteen years ago through flashbacks and confessions.
Not exactly profane, but does involve some graphic descriptions.
Before delving into the review, I have to admit I was very taken with the title of the book, and more importantly, the relevance of it with the plot. Seldom does one see an appropriately named book. (One flew over the cuckoo’s nest is the other one that immediately comes to mind).
This book tells the story of the murder of a woman about fourteen years back. It is seen through the eyes of her daughter, Jinx, in a series of flashbacks evoked through her conversations with Lemon, one of the three involved in the murder. Living alone, hardened and bitter, these conversations between her and Lemon help bring perspective and eventually a closure to her traumatised past.
First and foremost, this book can make you hungry. Lemon, part-lover and part-father figure, in an effort to unwind Jinx, ends up in the kitchen creating one amazing dish after another. I could taste the pumpkin soup, the millet, the sorrel and the Guinness punch. I could feel myself loosening, and could only nod my head as Jinx articulated what I was thinking:
This book can make you angry - at Jinx for her attitude towards her son; at Lemon for the part he played in the murder; at Barris, the jealous lover of her mother, for his violence and disregard for everyone else; and most of all, at Jinx’s mother, for being so gullible and blind to her daughter’s feelings.
For a moment, my longing for the breakfast Lemon was cooking so intense, I actually felt afraid.
However, the ruling emotion for me after reading this book was an overwhelming sadness. In what I am sure was just meant to be a passing narrative, I found the interaction between Jinx and her son, Ben as the most arresting. It may have something to do with my being a (relatively) new mother; I could strangely empathise with Jinx. But that did not prevent me from getting teary-eyed imagining what Ben must have been going through. All through the narration, I struggled to keep the rejected boy out of my mind.
I am sure that this book will evoke different emotions in different readers. A mother with a healthy relationship with her son will be shocked at Jinx for her damaging attitude towards her son. A daughter who loves her mother could only nod her way through Jinx’s confessions about feeling left out and being angry at the latter’s apparent callousness. But I am sure that everyone would, at least once while reading, want to stop-midway, go to the kitchen and make something delicious.
If the book falls short (and it does, though slightly), it is because of its writing style. I think the author wanted to strike a balance between a simple narration and some dramatic revelations. Yvette Edwards is brilliant as a simple narrator. However, the dramatic revelations, like the names of the protagonist and her mother (which is revealed only in the last chapter and there wasn’t enough punch to warrant that) seemed a tad unnecessary to me. Then there is the description of emotions, which followed a standard template almost throughout (and sometimes, annoyingly, multiple times in a page):
Cause: Description of the event in one paragraph.
Effect: Description of the resulting emotion in one line.
It had been the first time since he’d moved in that she’d spent any time with me on my own, two or three hours on one occasion in nearly two months, that’s all.
And he was jealous.
Somehow, these one-apparently-loaded line-endings to a paragraph seemed forced, and broke the simple, almost clinical narrative of the book.
Verdict:The only drawback of the book is so minor that I feel guilty mentioning it here. Indeed, considering the narrative style, the power-packed plot and the delicious cooking, this flaw seems negligible. Though not exactly a fast read, it is a very engrossing one, and can be finished in a couple of sittings. Very strongly recommended for everyone.