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The Coward's Tale

4.10  ·  Rating Details  ·  208 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
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 of the town. ...more
Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Published (first published November 1st 2011)
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Nov 22, 2011 Tania rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I want to state first that the author is a friend of mine, but I didn't feel compelled to either review the book or to say what I am going to say. I finished The Coward's Tale this afternoon and I think it astonishing, one of the best books I have ever read, and I read a lot. It is a poem, it is stories, it is a novel, it's a song, it is about death, life, family, tragedy, history. It is about the power of story and the telling of stories and what that does for the individual, for the community, ...more
Dec 31, 2012 Shannon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you would know why people are as they are, and why we must have kindness for ourselves and each other, read this book. It is profoundly good and satisfying. Vanessa Gebbie is the rare novelist who is as well a poet and philosopher. She tells her characters' stories with a natural lyricism and so vividly that although they are set in a small mining town in Wales, you will picture yourself among them, and of them.

I can think of no better book to close my reading year than this one.
Aug 03, 2012 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pitch-perfect in its voices, warm and real in its characters, full of tender observation and generosity, this is a tale to take to your heart and hold there.

Gebbie returns to her roots in Wales to weave this rare magic, conjuring a sense of place and time and people, which turns on its head the popular myth that Wales has no Great Writer in this modern age. It has, and it's her.

In case you imagine you're in for a deathly serious literary saga, relax. It's funny, and kind, and genuinely enjoyab
Apr 28, 2012 Jenny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
I loved this novel. Reading it felt like being sung to very softly. It has such a striking voice, the present tense; the Welsh dialect; the impressively successful use of 'may's and 'might's all working together to conjure a convincing world and a fascinating tapestry of stories.

The characters are wonderful and their stories, told by the beggar Ianto Jenkins, make us question the way we see people and remember that they all have stories to make them who they are.

The Coward's Tale is a story abo
I’m writing this review having just finished this novel, which perhaps is more a collection of short stories woven together with one man’s guilt, shame and compassion. I’ve rarely felt so satisfied with an ending as I have with the ending of this novel. Sentimental maybe, but perfectly pitched. It brings ‘The Coward’s Tale’ full circle, revealing in a way only time can, how generations can impact each other in so many different ways. How events falling away from living memory can still have the ...more
Jill Rutherford
Jan 03, 2016 Jill Rutherford rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I bought it because I had met Vanessa at some do I can't remember now, but also heard her talk about writing and that her publisher's had bought the rights to the book before she had finished it. But I had not yet taken the plunge; not invested my time.

I bought a copy and started reading and thought, mmm, different. I read on a little and thought, mmm, but it has a distinctive voice – then I was into it and just loved its poetic, lyrical writing. The softly flowing dialogue, t
Max Read
Jul 14, 2014 Max Read rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“A timeless tale: ‘A watch with no hands’”

Venessa Gebbie is from Welsh heritage, a British author living in Sussex. She is a journalist and short story writer and also teaches creative writing. “The Coward’s Tale” is Ms. Gebbie’s debut novel.
“The Coward’s Tale” is a narrated work with distinctive Welsh expression and lilt. It is a well written compendium of chapters set out as short stories that form a continuum. The plot is set in the mining country of southern Wales and is a collection of tale
Nov 11, 2015 Reid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ianto Jenkins, he will tell you, is a coward. This beautiful novel teaches us that he is much more than that. He is a beggar, homeless, without family or friends, and, most important of all, the repository of all the stories of his little town. And in the final assessment, a man of great courage.

This small Welch town made its living for generations from the local coal mine, Kindly Light. But as with all such mines, there was a much heartbreak mined there as there was coal, if not more. And Ianto
Nancy Freund
May 13, 2015 Nancy Freund rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Oh, there's lovely..." I haven't been exposed to enough of the Welsh dialect and mining town culture in my life, and now I feel I have a much better understanding of what I've been missing. In fact, I bought this book in print and in audio, so I could go back and forth, listening to the wonderful voice actor re-read scenes to me at night. So lyrical and such a pleasure. It felt like I got to be one of the players in this magical play, collar turned up against the chill, cinema queue down the st ...more
Sep 09, 2012 Felice rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I could not help myself. I read it anyway. The facts were right in front of me, I ignored them. I knew it was going to end in tears but I did it anyway. I have no one to blame but myself. When I look back I know what my downfall was. It was the cover. Look at it. It’s great isn’t it?

In my defense I did not purchase this book. It was sent to me a gift. It was described by my friend as something she was positive that I would , “love and want to pass on!” She was half right.

Would I have selected T
Mar 10, 2013 Joanne rated it it was amazing
I read the last few chapters of The Coward's 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.

Vanessa Gebbie's book tells a seemingly simple, down-to-earth tale (within a series of interwoven tales) of Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins, a beggar and story teller, who shares the history of Kindly L
Bonnie ZoBell
Aug 25, 2012 Bonnie ZoBell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Vanessa Gebbie's Soulful Saga

Vanessa Gebbie has created a deep and passionate not to mention humorous story in her stunning debut novel, The Coward's Tale. Families and generations and individual tragedies are intermingled and come masterfully to life with her literary prowess. So beautiful and tender is her use of language that the name Dickens comes to mind. Gebbie deftly elicits an eerie and mysterious tone in this heart-wrenching tale. At the current time in the story, folks are still recove
Victoria Watson
Apr 07, 2012 Victoria Watson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an original read this is.

‘The Coward’s Tale’ features Laddy Merridew, a young boy sent to a small Welsh mining village to live with his grandmother, who forges an unlikely friendship with the town beggar, the eccentric Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins. Through Ianto’s stories, Laddy learns more and more about the village and its inhabitants, and the disaster that shaped the community.

I love Ianto’s benevolent omnipotence, he knows everything about everyone and is willing to tell it just for a li
The Coward’s Tale took me quite a long time to read, and not for any negative reasons. It is a rich book, precisely written, and full of poetic and apt description. Its presentation of characters is warm and completely without judgement. It never once flags or loses its way, and so deserves to be read with care.

It is set in a former mining town in Wales, and explores the tragic legacy of an accident that happened in the Kindly Light pit. The stories of the town’s surviving inhabitants, idiosync
Aug 18, 2012 Dora rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First I want a state I became friends with Vanessa online after I read some of her stories. When I heard she had written a book I was instantly excited and intrigued. I was lucky enough to win a copy which I couldn’t wait to read. I was not disappointed in the least. Her writing drew me right in; the Welsh mining town felt so real, as if I was walking in its streets, meeting the town’s inhabitants and their strange rituals. Soon I was listening to the town’s outcast, Ianto Jenkins, whose tales g ...more
Linda Rollins
A Welsh mining town suffers a tragic accident many years previously and this story follows the descendants of those involved and how their lives are still impacted, down the generations, by the tragedy. Ianto Passchendale Jenkins is the town beggar and storyteller who spends his time recounting tales around the people of the town, their families and how they became who they are today.
The story is relatively slow-paced where nothing much happens except for the back-stories of the people.
I couldn'
Michael Logan
Nov 28, 2011 Michael Logan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gebbie has long been an author with that elusive touch of bringing achingly human stories to life, and she carries on that tradition in this, her first novel.

It isn't a book to be read in one big gulp. Rather, with its focus on the stories of an array of characters affected by the Kindly Light pit disaster generations before, it can be taken in small chunks, with each mouthful to be savoured and reflected upon.

I don't want to give too much away, but suffice to say that what seems at first to be
Donna Rae Jones
Jan 09, 2016 Donna Rae Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you've read Gebbie's 'Words From A Glass Bubble', you might recognize some of the characters here. If not, you're missing out! Gebbie's lyrical prose compliments perfectly the magic of her poetic imagery, creating unforgettable scenes out of feathers from wood shavings, drum beats from a mine, Ianto Jenkins with his watch with no hands ... nostalgic and punctuated with comic tones, this is a novel you will want to read, re-read and re-read again.

Apr 04, 2013 Diane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm feeling beset by twinsets lately. Read two books in a row that featured teen protagonists with serious breathing problems, then watched two movies in a row that featured men paralyzed from the neck down who used a mouth thingee to turn the pages of books, and now I've read another pair of similar books by prize-winning British authors who focus on poor, dour, miserable towns (the other was called Fludd). This one seems to take a page from the Canterbury Tales, although instead of moving thro ...more
Michelle Scowcroft
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) coward, Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins. The novel can be read in two ways: by popping into individual chapters or sections,or it can be read right through as a complete story. The language, Gebbie employs, in the dialogue and in description is melodious;it is full of rhythm, movement and pattern of sound. The story has laye ...more
Sep 16, 2012 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I must firstly state that Vanessa is a pal, I finally got round to reading 'The Coward's Tale', and it really moved me deeply. It is a gripping, sad yet very human book, taking the reader into the world of a close-knit Welsh community. It could be anywhere. It could be the small village in East Anglia I grew up in. Ianto Jenkins is the everyman narrator, searing his bruised wisdom and pain inside you with every breath and tale he tells, outside the cinema with a toffee in his pocket.

I rate
Alison Wells
Jan 06, 2013 Alison Wells rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I know this author from Twitter but I read the book on it's own merits. It's a beautiful book that made me hold my breath on occasion. The prose is astonishingly lovely, there are single lines that can stop you in your tracks. Weaved around the coal mining tragedy of Kindly Light, the stories tell of its legacy many years later. But these aren't stories on a grand scale, they are molecular and particular. We see how a word, a gesture, a decision, something said or unsaid, a hand placed or not, a ...more
Caroline Maldonado

An original novel, and wonderful! The tale of a community. 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 understan
Jul 31, 2012 Beverly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was an extraordinary piece of work. I had no idea where it was going, in the beginning. Not your usual (run of the mill) opening. Instead, it slowly leads you into the life of an entire village told in interacting 'tales' by a compelling story teller. There is no way to liken it to anything as it is creative, touching, poetic, funny, endearing, heartbreaking and deeply thoughtful and intelligent. The syntax becomes a heartbeat of the time and the people, beating in your own chest. ...more
Jia Frydenberg
Sep 06, 2012 Jia Frydenberg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When you're a voracious reader like me who has been swallowing books for at least 54 years, you don't frequently get knocked off your comfort perch by something new. This novel is "something new." I thought the title was a spin on Chaucer (and perhaps it was), but I quickly got completely immersed in the nartrative and found myself starting to take sides for and against characters. And they're not real! Well, who is to say that invented characters aren't real, what are we all anyway ..... anyone ...more
Aug 02, 2014 Rae rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

It had me bawling after I read the last chapter calling Vanessa Gebbie every name under the sun. and I love her for it.
I also threw the book across the room in denial. This has become one of my favourite books ever.
Jul 18, 2012 megan-redwitch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this book is a story for people who like storytellers and how people's lives intertwine. it is also about grief and how a person, a family, a town deals w. it - or not. i happen to think there are defining moments in our lives that stay w. us and influence who we are long after they're over. they don't always have to be tragic but they always feel monumental. this book reminds you of that feeling. strongly. the writing it paced as if it were being told not just read, which i like, and while simp ...more
This is more a collection of linked short stories than a novel. Gebbie reveals the history of a Welsh mining town through questions asked about current inhabitants that are answered by stories told by the town beggar about their parents and grandparents or generally connecting to a mining accident most of the town's inhabitants have long forgotten. The slow pacing made this a hard book to get into, but as I learned more about the town's residents the more I was drawn into the stories. A satisfac ...more
Dec 29, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A story told through the town beggar who sleeps on the stone bench outside a church in a town in Wales. He relates to a young lonely boy stories of townspeople who are still affected by a coal mine explosion 3 generations ago. Beautifully written with welsh words and expressions that take the reader back in time and place.

As another reader wrote, "It is a poem, it is stories, it is a novel, it's a song, it is about death, life, family, tragedy, history. It is about the power of story and the te
Jul 27, 2014 Judith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed it. Encapsulates the life of a small Welsh mining village and its inhabitants before and after the disaster perfectly.
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Vanessa Gebbie is a novelist, short storyist, editor, writing tutor and occasional poet. Her novel The Coward’s Tale (Bloomsbury) was selected as a Financial Times Book of the Year and Guardian readers’ book of the year.

She is author of two collections: Words from a Glass Bubble - a collection of mainly prize-winning stories - and Storm Warning (Salt Modern Fiction). She is contributing editor of
More about Vanessa Gebbie...

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