THE COWARD'S TALE

After two collections of stories published in England, Wales native Gebbie sets her first, deceptively loose-limbed novel in a Welsh mining town whose present-day residents remain imprinted by a long-ago mining disaster.

  A 9-year-old boy named Laddy comes to town to stay with his grandmother while his parents hash out their divorce. Laddy befriends the local beggar-cum-storyteller Ianto Jenkins. The obvious framing device works because Laddy is so forlornly endearing as he threads through the lives of the townspeople whose stories Ianto tells. The shop teacher Icarus was saddled by his father with an impossible ambition he still pursues: to create a feather out of wood. Jimmy "Half" Harris was born to an unwed mother and left by his grandmother to die outside in the cold; he survived but his more fortunate twin Matty, raised by the grandmother and now working at the bank, refuses to acknowledge they are brothers. Deputy librarian Factual Philips has spent his life avoiding play but finds comfort in detective stories. For the price of a coffee or a bit to eat, Ianto tells how a character, say Tutt the Undertaker or Baker Bowen the chiropodist, or Nathan the piano tuner, can trace his situation or idiosyncrasy back to the death of an ancestor during the Kindly Light mine disaster years before. But Ianto’s stories only go so far before the characters take over. Icarus builds a boat. Jimmy Half Harris wins back Matty’s love and support when he catches a fish. Factual uses his detective skills to help Tutt. Nathan learns how to love thanks to the pub keeper’s wife. Meanwhile Ianto slowly unspools his own tale of guilt; although a child new to mining at the time, he has always blamed himself for the mine’s collapse and for his adored younger brother’s death.  

 

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60819-772-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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