Friday, August 12, 2011

something for the weekend

In Snowdrops the relevance of the title doesn’t appear until near the end, whereas Edwards introduces the eponymous cupboard by page 20. From the first pages we are dragged into the story, its past and its present and plenty of suggestions that we will be shown how one becomes the other. This foreshadowing never kills the story though, never spoils what will come.

Edwards manipulates Jinx in a way that allows her to slide effortlessly through time, making a bed will allow a lengthy digression about her marriage breakdown and when she snaps back to the present we feel little sense of dislocation. It feels realistic, true to how our thoughts can roam. At other times Lemon will lead Jinx down memory’s lanes, while at other times she knows the way herself.

The characters are guarded and vulnerable at the same time, they are warm blooded and we feel a genuine sense of intimacy, of their desire to share their story in a way that Nicholas Snowdrop never quite achieved. Jinx is more than willing to let us judge her, but will we?

Cultural details form a foundation for the A Cupboard Full of Coats, they are never merely used as colour and flavour. Much like Lemon’s cooking, we are not just impressed at first taste, but left satisfied and full by the portrait Edwards offers. We don’t just witness a girl growing into a woman and the incidental things that happen to her, instead we witness blow by blow the cuts that shape the distinct individual she becomes, complete with smooth and jagged edges.

a problem shared

The first two novels I read from this years Booker longlist both dealt with the narrator offering the reader a confession - a tale of their downfall and the part they played in it.

In Miller’s Snowdrops the reader is positioned alongside the ‘you’ that is the narrators fiancĂ© - the one he is confessing all to in the hope that she will still stand by him. We are left to wonder what we would do if we were in her shoes? I felt like we learned quite a bit about the silent English girlfriend, to the degree where I felt I’d like to meet her, to hear her response to Nicholas’ tale.

As backdrop for the confession we get a swift portrait of Russian, mostly Moscow, and these details were skilfully handled, for me Miller at his best. He scatters contrasts between beauty and corruption liberally through his pages. However, after a while it felt like he was making the same point over and over and it’s power began to wane.

It is a novel of people more than politics – towards the end it is the lies about childhood and background and the little things that bite more deeply than the bigger deceptions. Love, friendship and the stories we share matter far more than money.

The atmosphere is one of wall to wall suspicion, in Miller’s Russia even the weather can’t be trusted. But in the end even the reader doubts themself, questioning whether perhaps we haven’t missed something, something vital heart of the story that feels strangely absent.