Tucked into the second paragraph of A Cupboard Full of Coats is the quietly poisonous phrase “the night I killed my mother” – a line laden with guilt and sorrow which spread like black ink through the rest of the novel.
Fourteen years ago Jinx’s mother was murdered – and she still blames herself. Living alone, separated from her ex-partner and young son, Jinx's solitary existence is interrupted by the return of Lemon, a long-disappeared family friend, with the news that her mother's abusive partner Berris has been let out of jail.
Through a series of long conversations, downed alcohol and luscious meals, Lemon and Jinx return to the painful past, as she recalls her childhood, how Berris met, wooed, and abused her mother, and reviews her relationship with Lemon – until the truths of that night 14 years ago are revealed.
Edwards’ prose swings between the prosaic – the estates and streets of Hackney, the grey drizzle of English rain – and the vividness of Jinx’s Afro-Caribbean heritage. Her descriptions of the food in particular sing with taste and memory: “oooh that soup, that soup; it was heaven…Saffron-coloured and bursting with flavour, with soft small pieces of yam and sweet potato and green banana and tania seed, and chewy torpedo dumplings."
Although the reader knows Jinx’s mother was murdered, Edwards is still able to ratchet up the tension, catching just right the turmoil and menace of an abusive relationship – “it was as if he had a glow about him… something physical and static and scary”, “against her pale skin, the bruising was a riot of colours” – until the terrible night when her mother died is finally remembered, with misery, guilt, and some kind of catharsis.
Although the novel sometimes dips into melodrama, it is carefully structured and the human relationships brutally real.