It is often a very confident writer that reveals the ‘what’ or ‘whodunit’ in the opening chapter of their work. The gambit taken is that the ‘how’ and ‘why they did it’ serves as the essence of the tale, it assumes that we will remain hooked even knowing where our story must end. It is a confident, almost cocky approach. Fortunately Yvvette Edwards’ stunning debut novel achieves its aim.
Set in Hackney, East London, this is a story marinated in a rich cultural stew and cooked under a potent emotional flame. There are no microwaving shortcuts, our exploration of main character Jinx’s development, is so delicious in detail it feels as though we are secretly invading not only her innermost personal diaries but also all of those who knew her. The intimate portrayal of her journey through adolescence to womanhood is sensitive but troubling, familiar yet cold and alien. Intriguingly it is the character Lemon who radiates warmth, and yet is also the man whose secrets threatens to unravel the fragile stability of Jinx’s world as she struggles to live with the memories of her mother’s brutal murder.
Yet whilst this story is centred on a coming-of-age tale that invokes bittersweet school time memories and parenthood blues it simultaneously incorporates an exploration of the complexity of relationships between mother and daughter, father and lover.
Fizzling with sexual energy and the ever present threat of violence through a remarkable narrative of love, betrayal and redemption it is a tale depicting the vulnerability of a teenage frightened Jinx in a world she cannot yet control.
As we weave across the timeline of our cast, sometimes in yearly chunks, the narrative never feels disjointed, instead retaining a poetic motion greased by a suspenseful tone that forever straddles the thin line separating the ugly reality of domestic violence and inappropriate sexual desire.
Yvvette masterfully demolishes gender stereotypes whilst in Red firmly establishes a stable anchor of African masculinity that successfully counters the dysfunctional domineering presence of the stories main players.
From the evocative depictions of music and food, to the precision of details used to depict the local Rio cinema, this is also a tale dripping with cultural authenticity, beautiful language and an empathic understanding of male / female motivations and behaviour.
Yvvette’s offering abandons the temptation to draw upon frenetic stereotypes to add momentum to the story and instead has crafted a gentle, yet thoroughly riveting narrative that masterfully delivers a beautiful backdrop from which to unravel the universal complexity of family and the human condition.
A brilliant debut.