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The Coward's Tale [Paperback]

Vanessa Gebbie
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
Price: 7.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

29 Mar 2012

'My name is Laddy Merridew. I'm a cry-baby. I'm sorry.'

'And my name is Ianto Jenkins. I am a coward. And that's worse.'

The boy Laddy Merridew, sent to live with his grandmother, stumbles off the bus into a small Welsh mining community, where he begins an unlikely friendship with Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins, the town beggar-storyteller.

Ianto is watchman over the legacy of the collapse many years ago of Kindly Light Pit, a disaster whose echoes reverberate down the generations and blight the lives of many in the town. Through Ianto's stories Laddy Merridew is drawn into both the town's history and the conundrums of the present.

Why has woodwork teacher Icarus Evans striven most of his life to carve wooden feathers that will float on an updraft? Why is the undertaker Tutt Bevan trying to find a straight path through the town? Why does James Little, the old gas-meter emptier, dig his allotment by moonlight? And why does window cleaner Judah Jones take autumn leaves into a disused chapel?

These and other men of the town, both past and present, and the women who mothered them, married them and mourned them, are bound together by the echoes of the Kindly Light tragedy and by the mysterious figure of Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins, whose stories of loyalty and betrayal, loss and love, form an unforgettable, spellbinding tapestry.

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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 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 417,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous, warm and lyrical 25 Nov 2011
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling 20 Nov 2011
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
3.0 out of 5 stars The Coward's Tale 4 Dec 2012
By hurst
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Original and wonderful! 17 Dec 2011
By sibyl
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
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vision of Love and Innocence. 20 Nov 2011
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
5.0 out of 5 stars An object lesson in the art of storytelling 20 Jan 2014
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
4.0 out of 5 stars The Kindly Light Brigade 19 July 2013
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A good first novel
An enjoyable read which is poignant and moving. A host of interesting characters set against a local historical tragedy. Recommended
Published 2 months ago by Caroline Rathmell
2.0 out of 5 stars DYLAN THOMAS REVISITED
If u like D Thomas, youll like this book, if u dont then you will not like it. Maybe his poetry is better.
Published 5 months ago by bettyparry
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical
Probably one of the most beautifully lyrical and poetic books I've read in a long time. One of those that makes me reread each paragraph and keep stopping to smile to myself (or to... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Tamsin Fraser
5.0 out of 5 stars A very moving book
This is the most beautiful set of intertwined stories I have read for many years. Stories of people in a small Welsh mining town in the aftermath of a pit disaster told by the town... Read more
Published 8 months ago by alismum
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
One of the best books in a while, the insights into Welsh life with the modulations of language most excellent
Published 9 months ago by Mrs D Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars I laughed, I cried.
The Coward's Tale is a beautifully written story by the talented Vanessa Gebbie. It is a complete story as well as a collection of shorter stories centred around the (so called)... Read more
Published 12 months ago by M. Scowcroft
4.0 out of 5 stars Book club Book
It is a good club read with plenty of room for discussion, interesting intermingling of the characters as described by the coward
Published 16 months ago by The Putt
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cowards Tale
Very different sort of narrative but interesting enjoyable to the end
I felt I would like to read other books by the same auther
Published 16 months ago by M Hill
5.0 out of 5 stars The Coward's Tale
Beautiful multi-layered writing, lyrical and poetic. An unexpected story taking us into the heart of a powerfully imagined world, and never losing us. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Judy
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful and poignant book
To read this extraordinary book is to pause and see life afresh as if through a prism, to tiptoe around a Welsh village and peep through the keyholes, to watch from upstairs... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Amazon Customer
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