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The Coward's Tale Paperback – 29 Mar 2012


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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (29 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408822636
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408822630
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 191,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

My novel of the year ... an extraordinarily lyrical, moving, funny evocation of a Welsh mining town ... A terrific achievement (A.N. Wilson Financial Times Book of the Year)

Spellbinding (Guardian)

Gebbie's prose has something of the musical rhythm and cadence of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood ... a hypnotic debut (Independent)

A striking first novel, poetic in style and funny ... reminiscent of Dylan Thomas at his best (Readers' Books of the Year Guardian)

'Tender and gripping - a brilliantly written epic' (Maggie Gee)

'Compulsively readable. She writes with such warmth and kindness and her poetic writing is meticulous in its apt and close observation' (Mari Strachan, author of The Earth Hums in B Flat)

Powerful in its storytelling, touching in its view of small-town life, and bold in its stylised language (New Welsh Review)

Book Description

A dazzling first novel about kinship and kindness, guilt and restitution and the ways in which the present is carved out of an unforgiving past.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Zoidberg on 25 Nov 2011
Format: Hardcover
I have really enjoyed this book, with its cleverly interwoven stories of the people of a small Welsh town. The sense of community and the way lives intersect through events was very strong, and I really liked the eccentricities of the characters. The writing is very good so it draws you into believing the quirks and it has been a pleasure visualising people like the baker who throws his bad bread into the river, the woodwork teacher making feathers and the groups of cinemagoers who repeatedly fall under the storytelling spell of the beggar Ianto Jenkins, and never make it to the films.

In the unusual tales of a community it reminded me of Louis de Berniere's early books, but with more of a bittersweet tone and quieter characters, carrying the inheritance of a tragedy in the town with them.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Janet Mckenzie on 20 Nov 2011
Format: Hardcover
I read the last few chapters of The Cowards Tale in bed this morning with the conflicting emotions I always get when coming to the end of a book I have come to love - joy at the unfolding and elegant culmination of the story journey I've been on, and sadness that there are no more pages left to turn.

Huge congrats Vanessa for a beautiful lyrical tale. The gentle yet powerful narrative pulled me in before I knew it and having spent much of the past year going back to my original home in South Wales and regularly driving up the Rhondda, through Merthyr and over Dowlais Top to Blaina, the sense of place, voice and idiom were joyously & poignantly accurate.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By hurst on 4 Dec 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
this was a book club choice - not one i would have personally chosen. it was ok, quite lyrical but difficult to get going with. i was not captivated but did feel sympathy with some of the characters and moved by others. i probably wouldnt recommend it as a great read but most of our book club members enjoyed it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By sibyl on 17 Dec 2011
Format: Hardcover
Individual life stories weave round each other like the streams and the wind weave round the Welsh village, home to the Kindly Light mine, whose tragedy has left its stamp on every family. Revelations are uncovered, more often than not with roots in generations past. We enter the inhabitants' lives, the complexities of their relationships, details of the domestic activities that ground them, as well as their dreams. We begin to understand their peculiarities -- only peculiar until we know their reasons. Questions about them are raised and answered, although maybe some questions are never answered. The voice is Welsh, demotic and poetic, often humorous and sometimes, for example in the final pages, visionary. The novel is original and wonderful!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David Rose on 20 Nov 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a warm, witty and, most of all, humane novel. A detailed portrait of a fictional - or rather, in a strict usage, mythical - town in the Welsh Valleys, built out of a series of linked stories told by the village bard, a beggar, a toothless rather than eyeless Homer, who is also a participant (his is "the coward's tale").
It has been compared with Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood, inevitably, given the Welsh setting, but is just as closely connected to the Canterbury Tales. But both comparisons are, although justified, ultimately misleading. Vanessa Gebbie has her own voice, her own style, her own approach.
The most useful analogy in describing the power and appeal of the novel would be with not another writer but an artist - Stanley Spencer. Gebbie does for the Welsh Valleys what Spencer did for Cookham: raising the particular into a timeless, universal vision of love and, ultimately, innocence.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael Glencross on 20 Jan 2014
Format: Paperback
This is a deftly crafted, lyrically written piece of fiction set in a (former) mining community in South Wales. It is constructed around a series of interwoven tales told by one of the characters, the beggar Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins, who himself is the central figure in the last story, and in the whole book. The other dominant presence is the coal mine itself, the ironically named Kindly Light colliery. It is the mining disaster at the pit several generations earlier that forms the connecting thread of the narrative as its consequences live on in the hearts, minds and flesh of successive generations, who are in differing ways victims and survivors of the original tragedy. Of course Gebbie's characters are exaggerated in their traits but only in the positive sense of their being heightened and raised above the ordinary, like her prose style. The author carefully avoids any stagey, jokey representation of Welshness and succeeds in evoking without sentimentality and often with humour the harshness of living and working conditions but also the warmth and solidarity of a community marked by suffering and grief. A very impressive achievement.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Sussex Scribe on 19 July 2013
Format: Paperback
This is a very different novel where stories are told about three generations of inhabitants of a small Welsh (ex)mining community by the local tramp Ianto Jenkins. These stories go back and forth in time with the tramp used to give an omniscient narration which makes the story telling quite factual and detached; together with the use of present past and future tenses this gives the novel a very quirky feel.
I liked the characterisation - a lot of detail about the individuals' lives across a range of occupations form librarian to collier to schoolboy - and the sense of place was very strong and quite unique - these close knit communities where everyone stays put for better or for worse are becoming rarer and rarer. The ending was also nicely fashioned around what did happen in the mine accident and the part Ianto had in it.
However as the novel is essentially a collection of inter-locking vignettes the pace is quite slow and there is a lot of repetition around Ianto's life especially which can start to grate. The writing is well done but this feels more like fictionalised life writing than a novel so there is little plot as such - more a gradual filling in of a jigsaw puzzle.
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