#TBT Review: The Thirteenth Tale

thirteenth taleBook Title: The Thirteenth Tale

Author: Diane Setterfield

Genres: Suspense, Adult Fiction

Pub Date: 9/12/06

4 STARS

A love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.

All children mythologize their birth…So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter’s collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist. 

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself — all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter’s story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission. 

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire. 

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida’s storytelling but remains suspicious of the author’s sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves. 

The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.

Back in June 2007, I participated in a Reading Challenge: 48-Hour Reading Challenge.  During the 2 days, I read 6 books, 1626 pages in truly what amounted to 22 hours of reading. The first book I picked up to read was Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. This was the review that I posted on my blog at the time, wishfulknits.blogspot.com

This story has a flavor to it that transported you back in time to some classic mystery/ghost stories of the 19th Century. Heroine Margaret is described very much like the classic spinster governess (think Jane Eyre, which plays a role in the novel as well) and it isn’t surprising that she becomes so totally immersed in the life of Miss Winter and the intrigue that revolves around her true story. 

In a nutshell, Miss Winter (a famous writer with many novels to her name) decides, after many years, that she’ll share her true life story with none other than Margaret. Our heroine travels to Yorkshire to sit with Miss Winter and listen to her history before the author dies.

I really enjoyed the storytelling aspect of the tale and how Margaret pieces the truth together by listening between the lines. I have to confess that the book fell short of the hyper and I think that we’ll be done rather quickly with the reading group discussion.  

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