The Coward's Tale by Vanessa Gebbie
I've 'known' Vanessa online for many years and have read some of her short fiction, so I was intrigued to see how her unique style would translate to longer fiction. This book is no disappointment - it's certainly original and has a lilting, lyrical voice which I defy anyone to read without hearing a Welsh accent.
The book is really a collection of short stories, linked by place, characters, and history. It's set in a fictitious Welsh mining town, the scene of a pit disaster which is just within living memory - at least the town beggar, Ianto Jenkins, remembers it. The townspeople all have their own quirks and foibles, and Ianto knows their stories and their parents' stories, and will tell the tales to anyone who'll listen. In many cases, it was the pit disaster which left its impact on the families for several generations.
There are all sorts of unusual characters in this book - the woodwork teacher who tries to carve feathers from wood; the undertaker who points his stick and walks everywhere in the straightest possible line; the illiterate ex-collier who is keeping his hands black with coal, as he told his wife he would only look for another job when the black left his hands.
There's a dreamlike quality to some of the stories. There are some beautiful images, quirky though not terribly real characters, and the strongest sense of place I've ever come across in a novel. It's a sad, wistful read and gets my vote for most original voice.