Yvvette Edwards’ A Cupboard Full of Coats is a favorite debut. I reviewed it back in 2013. It’s a novel about family and loss, and I blew through the book, while treasuring her writing and insights. It was a book that should have gotten more attention than it did.
Last year, Edwards published her second novel, The Mother. It is as moving as the first. Writing again about family and loss, The Mother focuses on Marcia Williams, a mother whose son was murdered and how she comes to terms with his death. I was riveted.
Set in London, Ryan Williams was a successful and responsible 16-year old boy who was stabbed to death by another teen, Tyson Manley, after school. The book recounts Tyson’s trial. Told in a close first-person point of view, the book recounts Marcia’s grief as she sits through the trial and learns the details of her son’s relationship with Tyson; they were connected though a girl, Sweetie.
As the trial progresses, Marcia becomes increasingly alienated from her husband, Lloydie, who is in such denial about his son’s death that he can’t attend the trial nor talk to Marcia about it. This novel is a powerful look at how a mother who tried to provide all he could for her son realizes that she ultimately couldn’t keep him safe, and how she begins to rebuild her life in the wake of this terrible loss.
I was so moved by this story and the way Edwards grapples with themes of race, crime and loss. This is a sad book, but deeply engrossing.
Edwards lives in London and is working on her next book. Waterstones published an interview with her about the book and her process of writing it.
A Cupboard Full of Coats
By Yvvette Edwards
Oneworld Publications, 2011
Jinx, a woman in her early thirties, is living alone in the East London home she grew up in with her mother, when Lemon, a friend of her mother’s, unexpectedly knocks on the door. It has been 14 years since Jinx’s mother was murdered, and 14 years since Jinx has seen Lemon. Jinx invites Lemon in and they begin a three-day remembrance of the turbulent time leading up to her mother’s murder, when Jinx’s mother fell in love with Berris, Lemon’s oldest friend.
This is a powerful story. The chapters seamlessly glide between the present visit with Lemon, and Jinx’s teen years when Berris and Lemon came into her life. There is also a brief scene with Jinx’s ex-husband, Red, and her estranged son, Ben. Jinx, the daughter of a Montserratian mother and Jamaican father, who died when she was quite young, had an unremarkable childhood until her mother fell in love with, Berris. Berris literally changed the course of her and her mother’s lives, and through her conversations with Lemon, Jinx works through guilt, shame and anger around her mother’s death.
Longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker prize, Edwards has not gotten a lot of press in the US. Nor did I find an author website. I read about this book in Poets and Writers magazine and learned more about Edwards from an interview in The Millions that was published in 2011 when she was longlisted for the Booker. Although the woman on the jacket of the photo looks like she is in her late 20s, Edwards was 45 when A Cupboard Full of Coats came out in the UK. I found this book to be beautifully rendered and completely engrossing. It is a mother-daughter story with incredible depth. Edwards talks about how she came up with the story idea in on the Foyles website.