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The Coward's Tale

A dazzling first novel about kinship and kindness, guilt and atonement, and the ways in which we carve the present out of an unforgiving past
Average Customer Rating:
4.375 out of 5
4.4
 out of 
5
(16 Reviews) 16
Open Ratings Snapshot
Rating snapshot (16 reviews)
5 stars
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15 out of 16(94%)customers would recommend this product to a friend.
Customer Reviews for The Coward's Tale
Review 1 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
5 out of 5
5 out of 5
Martin N
Location:Liverpool
Age:62
A worthy read.
24 February 2012
This book kept raising a smile in me and was a pleasure to read. Vanessa Gebbie's dry, ironic, Welsh wit is used to unfold an underlying and more serious tale of a mining disaster in the local 'Kindly Light Pit'. Her humour is light hearted and I found myself instantly reading with a welsh accent. It's hard to avoid doing so, the Welsh voice
has been crafted so well, and I found this added to my enjoyment. This Welsh voice, together with the warmth you rapidly develop for her dignified central character, a beggar called 'Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins', helps to anchor you in the heart of a Welsh mining town. Ianto's friendship with a young boy, Laddy Merridew, develops with Ianto as the father figure helping Laddy deal with some of life's problems. This relationship is the thread that helps link you to the other stories of curious habits in the lives of some of the locals.
It is Ianto's stories that answer questions about the quirks of their fellow townsfolk; in their telling they draw you into the social consequences that have distorted lives in this town, following the pit disaster long ago. Telling the tale through the eyes of a beggar is poignant and often used to show the hypocrisy born by some locals. The way her novel deals with the broad scale of human values engenders respect for our better human qualities. Ianto has become the guardian of the town's history, that many have forgotten, but which you feel honoured to relive through his stories; as you yearn to know more about the next person whose inexplicable foibles require Ianto's
elucidation. Ironically, Ianto himself is reluctant to tell too much of his own 'coward's' story as the book progresses, but all is revealed when the novel picks up pace as it concludes.
Vanessa Gebbie's humour reminded me of Bryson's dry, laconic wit, but her style is more poetic. Not all is humour as she raises the serious consequences of the tragedy still present in the town. Her novel begs questions about the way we relate to each other today, and has a positive side coming out of the tragedy that exemplifies how the
social qualities within us can get used to best effect. It's a very enjoyable read.
Review 2 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
4 out of 5
4 out of 5
Lisa D
Location:Hull, England
Age:39
A warm tale of times past!
04 December 2011
I found this book hard to get into at first, but then warmed to it, and really enjoyed it! Its very different, and full of tales from the past about people, their jobs, lives and how things used to be! A warming tale, thats a pleasure to read - just stick with it in the beginning!
Review 3 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
5 out of 5
5 out of 5
Erasmus
Location:Birmingham, England
Age:55
A great read!
13 November 2011
This is not the type of book I would usually read, but I really enjoyed it. Like others, I found it took a few chapterrs to get into the story, but then I was hooked. On the surface it seems like a simple tale of life in a Welsh mining village but the plot becomes more complex as you begin to realise the way that events of the past still have a hold on the present. The poetic style of writing adds to the impact of the story and I could hear the characters clearly speaking in Welsh accents!.This a book I would willingly read again as I feel there is far more to be revealed than I discovered at the first reading. I would highly recommend it.
Review 4 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
4 out of 5
4 out of 5
jbertschin
Location:Herts
Age:45
Evocative, tender and poetic.
06 November 2011
The stories contained in "The Coward's Tale" are very evocative of a time long ago when small communities were closely knit, where neighbours knew each others' business and life was a lot simpler than today. The way this book is written reminded me of The Canterbury Tales where many characters tell their stories on a journey, however in this novel there is one main storyteller, Ianto Jenkins, the town's beggar who tells the stories of the lives of the locals throughout the generations. The stories are tenderly written, greatly descriptive and map out the inter-mingling relationships of those living near by. The old tradition of storytelling where stories were handed down through families and communities is at the heart of this novel. We are drawn into the narrative, wanting to find out the circumstances surrounding the mysterious events that happen in this small town. There are many sad and touching moments but it is Ianto's feeling of blame for the tragedy at the pit which is the most. striking. This novel is for you if you like prosaic narratives with a poetic lilt. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.
Review 5 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
5 out of 5
5 out of 5
AlisonL
Location:Tring, Herts
A beautifully written story with a Welsh accent.
06 November 2011
As others have said, this is a beautifully written tale of the people in a small Welsh mining town told through the stories of a local beggar, born and bred in the town. The beggar, who is the coward of the title, tells his tales to a lonely boy, Laddy. They tell how the tragedy of a dreadful mining accident at the misnamed Kindly Light colliery years before still reverberate in the situations and behaviours of many of the townsfolk - like the undertaker who tuts and walks in straight lines and the window cleaner who cleans one of the chapel windows with dead leaves and salt water. By telling their stories, and his own, he frees them and himself.
I found this a kind and warm book with a dreamy style that reminded me of the South American magic realism, but with a clear and strong Welsh valleys accent. Lovely.
Review 6 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
4 out of 5
4 out of 5
Snare
Beautiful Read
06 November 2011
I really enjoyed this book. It follows the lives of the people who live in a Welsh mining village past and present. It is beautifully written. It did take about a chapter to get into the swing of it but the characters are endearing and it became hard to put down!
Review 7 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
5 out of 5
5 out of 5
Jill Mortimer
Location:London
Age:45
A Coward's Tale
05 November 2011
This book is intensely moving and beautifully written in a prose which echoes the rhythms and cadences of the Welsh language and the speech of those belonging to the book's fictional town. It is clear Vanessa Gebbie is a poet: her use of the sensual world and repeated imagery flows through the novel building layers of meaning and intertwines the stories within.
The book is a series of tales as told by both the narrator and by Ianto Jenkins; the beggar and the 'coward' of the title. Each tale considers the story of an individual in the town. Their behaviour sparks questions from the other townsfolk which are answered by Ianto and, as we learn, they each have an ancestor or a family member who has been killed or damaged in some way in the Kindly Light mine disaster many years before. We learn how their legacy of a splintered past shapes them.
This is a book about storytelling, folk tales and the power of the spoken word as well as the written word; Laddy Merridew tries to understand and distill Ianto's stories into text. It is a book about memory and how people survive in their present. We come to know the people, the town and the surrounding countryside from the cinema (which plays films which are sometimes missed while those who queue listen to Ianto's tales) and the Ebenezer Chapel to the hills beyond.
Ianto and Laddy form the central relationship as the beggar shares his own past with the boy.
I loved this book. It made me smile and some of the narrative is so powerful it made me cry. I found it to be a rich, intriguing and complex read.
Review 8 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
5 out of 5
5 out of 5
TheSuaveGent
Location:UK
A enthralling and intriguing read
02 November 2011
I must say I agree with many of the reviewers bellow, the writing style of this novel is not conventional and may take time to become used to, but I loved it. Gebbie manages to completely pull you into the story, and immerses you in the period. This book is hauntingly beautiful in how Gebbie describes the characters, makes them come alive, and we explore their world and follow them all on their own individual journeys.
If you buy a book this winter, I would recommend this. It will capture your heart.
Review 9 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
4 out of 5
4 out of 5
Lindielou
Location:Harrogate
Age:42
Beautiful and Unusual
29 October 2011
A Welsh mining town suffers a tragic accident many years previously and this story follows the descendants of those involved, and how their lives have been 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't help reading this book with a bit of a Welsh lilt - I think it's necessary. The writing is quite a work of art - beautiful in describing the mundane, so clever. I did find the use of the present tense quite tiring to read. However, reading the book felt like stroking petals on a delicate flower - the words so fragile, yet able to describe people and situations so powerfully.
The writing is very pretty and prosaic, but it does mean that it takes a long time to say not very much.
Overall, though, a well-crafted and unusual read.
Review 10 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
4 out of 5
4 out of 5
NKS
Location:West Susses
Age:67
Great
28 October 2011
An excellent read. A little difficult to get into due to Welsh names, once passed this hurdle an enthralling story.Easily to follow funny in places poignant in others. Well worth the money. A good read for winter nights.
Review 11 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
5 out of 5
5 out of 5
Ruth Darling
Location:West Sussex
Bear with it it’s worth it
27 October 2011
So many stories within a story unpredictable and refreshing that lifts you up and puts you down gently into the town. A town I will visit again by rereading this book.
I found myself getting lost when I first started to read The Coward’s Tail, until I got used to this style of writing and then I got totally absorb.
Not a book recommended for children; even though, at the start of the story I thought it could be.
Looking forward to reading the next book penned by Vanessa Gebbie.
Review 12 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
3 out of 5
3 out of 5
Becca Bobbins
Location:King's Lynn
Age:16
Not really my cup of tea
25 October 2011
I must admit that I found this hard to read, the writing style wasn't very gripping and I didn't really feel like I was in the story,more of a clueless outsider. However, i don't completely write this off as unreadable, at points I was intruiged to know more about Ianto and the village, and I would still recommend this to anybody who, unlikeme, has the patience to sit down and work their way through it wih an openmind.
Review 13 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
4 out of 5
4 out of 5
Soupdragon
Location:Hull, England
Well worth perservering with
25 October 2011
This is not a conventional novel in terms of plotting or structure and requires a little patience at first to fully understand and appreciate. Once I perservered however, I found I was well rewarded for it.
The Coward's Tale is an evocative and profoundly moving story of the inhabitants of a mining village in Wales after the closure of its pit, the ironically named "Kindly Light". The sentence structure and the narrative gave an authentically Welsh feel to the writing.
Different characters' stories are intervoven into the main story which is held together by the stories of youg "Laddie" and also begger, Ianto who mistakenly believes himself to be a coward. The pit itself plays a central role, having been both the heart of this community and the cause of destruction in so many of the villager's lives.
The stories made me think about the poverty and desperation that led miners and their families to put up with the risks of this kind of life and will stay with me for some time.
Review 14 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
4 out of 5
4 out of 5
ana
Location:wales
Definitely worth a try
21 October 2011
I found it hard at first, it didn't seem to interest me, I continued to read it and was instantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it, it was a reminder of my childhood when I lived in a small village where everyone knew each other and their stories, something that’s lacking in my city life.
After a few chapters I felt as if I was part of this small Welsh village looking forward to listening to Iantos stories, which give the wonderful insight that first looks are not what they seem (much like the book) and that we should not be so stereotypical.
All in all it was a wonderful well written book that made me smile with joy but not one to be read at once, it has to be savoured much like a good bottle of wine.
Review 15 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
4 out of 5
4 out of 5
Michael C
Location:Norwich, England
Age:18
The Coward's Tale
10 October 2011
The Coward’s Tale is a gripping story of a young boy, Laddie and the tales of people he meets -including a beggar named Ianto, a wood work teacher and Baker. Its inspired structure leads you through these tales systematically, allowing you to form relationships with everybody you meet.
To begin with, I did find the writing a bit tricky to read (especially the sentence structures) but I would highly recommend giving it a proper chance as you get used to the original writing technique. Follow the story of Laddy particularly carefully, it will be worth it!
I would recommend this book as light reading for a journey perhaps, but not for younger readers.
Review 16 for The Coward's Tale
Reviews (16)
Overall rating: 
5 out of 5
5 out of 5
Mykh
Location:Liverpool
Magical Realism in the Welsh Valleys
04 October 2011
Ianto is the coward of the story, but not for the reasons you might first think related to his nickname. He is also the one who tells us the story of the village as he acts in some ways like the local social historian. He tells all who will listen things they did not know, had forgotten or had not wanted to remember. And he does all this for sweetened coffee and toffees.
This places the story of the unnamed ex mining village in the realms of magical realism, the first time I am aware that the literary form developed in Latin America has been transported to the Welsh valleys.
People do strange and crazy things, on the surface, but when you are told their history by Ianto all that previously seemed to be ridiculous falls into place.
What hangs over the village and its inhabitants is the disaster that happened so many years ago many are not even sure that it happened. This disaster happened at Kindly Light pit, which, we are told, was neither.
But like so many mining villages of the past now they are not. Unemployment stalks the streets and the men have nothing to do but stay out in the rain or go into the library for warmth.
The only young character we get to know, Laddy, is in the village whilst his parents sort themselves out during the break-up of their marriage. He befriends Ianto, trusts him, brings him food, listens to his stories when he is allowed to but, at times, is not sure whether what he hears is the truth or lies, distrustful of all adults after being lied to by his mother.
But even while he tells about other people’s tragedies Ianto is also hiding something, a heartbreak he has been nursing since he was a boy. If everybody else’s story can be told so can his but it has the effect of releasing him from his pain forever.
This is not a fun book although it does have its own sense of humour. You start to build a relationship with the characters the further you get into the novel as everything is brought together and the relationships between the different characters are revealed.
I didn’t find it easy at the very beginning but once over the first few pages I seemed to follow the flow and consider that the effort was well worth it.