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The Coward's Tale
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The Coward's Tale

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  177 ratings  ·  70 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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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 505)
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Tania
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
Shannon
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.
Sarah
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
...more
Jenny
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
...more
Max Read
“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
...more
Felice
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
...more
Joanne
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
...more
Bonnie ZoBell
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
...more
Victoria Watson
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
...more
Fiona
This is a story about Laddy Merridew, a young boy, who is sent to live with his grandmother while his parents are going through a messy divorce. Laddy stumbles off the bus into a small Welsh mining community, where he begins a friendship with Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins, the town beggar. Ianto is also a storyteller and throughout the novel Ianto relates stories about the terrible collapse of Kindly Light Pit, a mine near the town, which collapsed many years earlier. His stories show how the coll ...more
Karen
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
...more
Dora
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'
...more
Michael Logan
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
...more
Diane
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
Sheridan Parsons
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 windows as detail unfolds on the streets below us, to stare at minutiae through a microscope, and to see in close-up the tiny cogs which make the world go round. Reading this book makes the familiar uncomfortable and the uncomfortable familiar. It makes you look at yourself differently and see your place in great garden of l ...more
James
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
...more
Alison Wells
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
...more
Beverly
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
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
Rae
HOW. COULD. YOU.

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.
megan-redwitch
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
Akeiisa
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
Jennifer
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
...more
Judith
Enjoyed it. Encapsulates the life of a small Welsh mining village and its inhabitants before and after the disaster perfectly.
Adele Poskitt
Beautifully written story which captures life in small town Wales. At times it reads like a gentle collection of short stories and I often struggled to remember the tales of different characters several chapters ago. But the thread of young Laddy does run through the book with tenderness and touching compassion.

The social and economic depression of coal mining towns is well portrayed through the interweved lifes of the town folk, without judgement or politics. This makes for an original and int
...more
Catherine McNamara
Poetic and heartbreaking. Seamless. I really enjoyed Vanessa's book, her characters trudging up and down the village, the dreadful past being tramped over but brought back into the light. There was a gentleness in the way Gebbie led us back to the Kindly Light mining disaster, and a rigorous structure for the telling. Each character has suffered, is observed in the present with all his or her foibles, and then the past is prised open by the oracle Ianto, the 'coward' of the tale. Wonderfully acc ...more
Michael O'Donnell
Brilliant book.

Hard to pin where it fits into our timeline but seems to be 60's. Each story is an exploration of character and community and the whole thing is drawn together by history and shared loss.

Characters are well developed and yet there is distance because the story is often told in the third person. The stories become parables and that takes a little away from their reality. Are they Cowards stories or reality.

Ending was unexpected and apt.

As a reading experience......up there with
...more
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1050335
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
More about Vanessa Gebbie...
Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story Words From A Glass Bubble (Salt Modern Fiction) Storm Warning Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story. Edited by Vanessa Gebbie The Half-Life of Fathers

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