cover image The Coward’s Tale

The Coward’s Tale

Vanessa Gebbie. Bloomsbury, $16 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-60819-772-9

The tenderness and generosity of this debut novel is strengthened by the precision and sharpness of its language. Gebbie creates a mid-century Welsh mining village and its tragic history through the eyes of Laddy Merridew, a newly arrived schoolboy, and Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins, the indigent bard whose stories of fellow townsfolk evoke the village’s devastating past and “get into your soul.” Ianto unspools the history of past generations of miners, their families, and the lasting devastation of the Kindly Light mine accident, a defining event for the town. Tenderness lies beneath cold exteriors, and casual brutality beneath placid domesticity, and Jenkins’s burden as the teller is greater than his childhood meditations on death and loss. His empirical experience of the catastrophe created its own burden; he survived a “roar unlike any other... dust and the rush of no air, and flying rocks, and it is the world and the whole mountain tipped about.” The tale is one Ianto can only just bring himself to tell to an audience that yearns to hear it, and this compassionate and sage depiction of a rural community gives the other warmly fashioned characters the power of healing and forgiveness. (Mar.)