A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards

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A Cupboard Full of Coats Long listed for 2011 Booker Prize

Five words from the blurb: mother, murdered, guilt, memories, violence

I’m pleased to announce that this year’s Booker long list has finally rewarded me with a wonderful book. I wouldn’t have discovered A Cupboard Full of Coats if it hadn’t been on the long list and so my efforts of trying them all have finally been rewarded.

A Cupboard Full of Coats is an emotional book describing the life of Jinx, a woman haunted by the thought that she was partly responsible for the murder of her mother.

Jinx suffered from a violent childhood and finds it hard to connect with her five-year-old son. I found their endless misunderstandings heart-breaking to read:

I caught up with him he had ripped three or four heads off the crocuses planted along the thin bed that ran the length of the path from the gate to the door.
‘Ben, don’t do that please,’ I said as he started tearing off another. Ignoring me, he yanked it off anyway, adding it to the collection in his other hand.
‘Will you bloody stop!’ I said.
When he looked at me, those enormous eyes were filled with tears. He held out his hand. His voice was tiny. ‘These are for you,’ he said.
And I looked at the small, fresh, squashed bouquet held out to me, and for a second I could have taken his gift and smiled, then cuddled and whispered to my son, Forgive me. I love you.
But the words that came out of my mouth instead were:
‘Great! Why don’t you kill every single flower you can see?

I was gripped by this book from the very first page. I flew through it, desperate to know what part Jinx had played in the murder of her mother and how everything would be resolved.

I found the characters well formed and realistic, and the descriptions of life as a Caribbean in East London were evocative and atmospheric. Details of food preparation were particularly mouth-watering.

The writing isn’t perfect and I spotted a few typographical errors (for example, see the first line of the quote) but I was so absorbed in the story that these didn’t bother me.

If you enjoyed Chris Cleave’s, The Other Hand, then I’m sure you’ll love, A Cupboard Full of Coats. I don’t think the writing quality is good enough to justify its place on the Booker long list, but it will gain a spot in my list of favourite books published in 2011.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…an elegantly structured story of guilt and redemption. Literary License

…a very worthy idea that has been badly executed. Kevin from Canada

I was sucked into the world of the novel and the mind of Jinx, the main character. Revcherylreads


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  1. Alex says:

    I got curious about this one when I read what Edwards said about it on Foyles’ (www.foyles.co.uk/Yvvette-Edwards). It’s interesting that she talks a lot about race and politics and you didn’t dwell on it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, There isn’t anything political about this book (unless it is so subtle I didn’t notice it!) and this isn’t a book about race. The characters happen to be of Caribbean origin, but I agree with what Yvvette Edwards says about it being
      “a story about the ‘human’ experience, one that any human being can identify with ” I recommend giving it a try.

  2. Kathleen says:

    The excerpt you share makes me want to read more so I can learn more about Jinx.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, Jinx is a wonderfully disturbed character and I’m sure you’ll be gripped by her story.

  3. Louise says:

    Definitely want to give this a try now. The excerpt is really quite moving, despite being quite short. I had somehow skipped over this in looking at the Booker longlist so I’m really glad you reviewed it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Louise, The writing is very emotional. I love the way that even simple scenes leave a lump at the back of your throat. The book’s blurb didn’t grab my attention when I first looked at the long list either. Shows you can’t judge a book by its blurb!

  4. stujallen says:

    pleased you found one you like I ve read three and they’ve been ok but not bowled me over yet ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I’ve found a lot of OKness in the Booker list :-(

  5. Sandy says:

    That quote is heart-breaking. If it passes your test, most likely it would pass mine.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I think you’d love this one. I hope it makes it over to the US for you soon.

  6. I’m glad you finally found one you loved! I’m eager to read this one and hope to find time to get back into my Booker reading soon. I’ll have to move this one up the list.

    1. Jackie says:

      “I’ll have to move this one up the list.” or save it until last so you end on a high note?
      I hope you enjoy the rest of your Booker reading.

  7. Amused says:

    Woohoo! This has proven worthwhile :) I’ll be adding this one to my list for sure now!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amused, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have.

  8. Biblibio says:

    I wonder what the qualifications for the Booker are. If you say this one isn’t necessarily written very fluidly but has good characterization and storytelling, it might be that the Booker judges want to shift a bit from the standard lovely-empty-prose thing that I keep seeing. I’m not a big fan of those books that only have the pretty writing and none of the flesh and blood. I’m willing to sacrifice some quality writing for some quality characters. Of the longlisted titles, A Cupboard Full of Coats sounds like it might actually suit me…

    1. Jackie says:

      Biblibio, I have no idea what the criteria for the Booker is. I’d assume they are looking for quality writing AND good characters/plot etc, but this clearly isn’t the case. This year the judges seem to be favouring plot over writing and although this may result in more readable books I’m not sure I agree with this approach. There are lots of prizes for good fiction, the Booker should be about celebrating good literature.

      1. Biblibio says:

        The Booker is about celebrating good literature, yes, but wouldn’t you say that plot is equally important in good literature as writing? I’m a strong believer in good writing, but the more time goes by and the more I read allegedly “literary” books, the more I realize that all the reader is given is good writing with nothing in between. It’s lovely to read, sure, but there’s no content, no characters, no plot to speak of. I’m not for a moment suggesting that writers should do away with quality writing (nor obviously the Booker, for that matter), but perhaps a return to combining story AND good writing… maybe that’s what the Booker hoped to do here. Whether or not they succeeded is a whole other issue…

  9. Lucybird says:

    I liked the sound of this one when I was reading about the Booker nominees, almost certainly want to read it after seeing your review though. Thanks :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Lucybird, I didn’t think the blurb of this one sounded anything special when I first read the long list – shows the importance of trying things even when you think they don’t sound like your sort of thing. I hope that you enjoy it. :-)

  10. Amy says:

    This book sounds riveting and heart-breaking! I cannot imagine what it must be like to be so damaged that you know what to do to comfort your small son yet words that aren’t comforting but are more mean-spirited come out of your mouth! I’m curious if the why she behaves this way is answered by why she feels she’s partly responsible for her mother’s death…If I read this book I have a feeling I’ll race through it too to find out what happened.
    Thank you for reviewing what sounds like a fascinating book!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, It is so sad to see the problems passing through the generations, but also an important problem that people should be more aware of. I’m sure you’ll race through it and enjoy it as much as I did.


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