The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

40440What a beautiful book! 4.5 out of 5 stars.
I bought this at a library book sale several years ago, and tried multiple times to start reading it without any success. Finally, I checked out the audio version, and one full cd (or about 35 pages) in, I was hooked.
The Thirteenth Tale tells the story of two narrators, the biographer Margaret Lea, and the best-selling author, Vida Winter. Miss Winter, who is dying, commissions the much younger Margaret to write her biography, the true story of her deeply mysterious, and never before revealed, past. What follows are the tales of both their lives, intertwined in ways not first known to either.
Miss Winter is a strong personality, and old lady with copper hair, piercing emerald eyes, and an imperious manner. Margaret is, in many ways, her opposite, someone who nurses a deep sense of emptiness, grief, and solitude.  But together, they revisit the past, enchanting the reader, and perhaps, healing themselves.
Part of why I think I had difficulty starting the novel is that it is written in a rather old-fashioned manner. It is reminiscent of, and refers consciously to, classic novels such as Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. So if one has been reading contemporary thrillers, as I have been, the change in tone takes a moment to get used to. But once I understood the mood of the novel, and adjusted my expectations as a reader, I was completely taken with it.
The Thirteenth Tale is consistently compelling, and full of surprises.  It has all the elements of a classic gothic tale; there are twins, ghosts, a crumbling mansion, a neglected garden. There is abuse, and murder, jealousy, romance, and a touch of whimsy. It’s an awful lot of fun. Once I got into the story, I listened to the audio while driving, and read the book when at home. I grew attached to the characters, and was sad to see the novel end.
Finally, at its heart, The Thirteenth Tale is a tribute to great novels like The Woman in White and Rebecca. It is a book about books, and about reading. Miss Winter reminisces about what it means to be a storyteller, and Margaret Lea speaks with insight about her great love of reading. Any reader will find a sense of kinship and satisfaction in the importance they give, and the love they have, for stories. The Thirteenth Tale made me think about why I love to read, and it reminded me of how much fun it can be to lose oneself in a good book. I highly recommend it.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jazmin Jade
    Nov 26, 2013 @ 23:14:56

    This is one of my favourite books of all time.


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