Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield [September/06]

I have had this book for a while now, and read it the day it came in the mail. I have just had to wait patiently for permission to post about it. Today is the day, I almost forgot, so I am sitting here trying to write a review worthy of how much I enjoyed this book. But first, what the book is about. From Random House:

A compelling emotional mystery in the timeless vein of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, about family secrets and the magic of books and storytelling.

Margaret Lea works in her father’s antiquarian bookshop where her fascination for the biographies of the long-dead has led her to write them herself. She gets a letter from one of the most famous authors of the day, the mysterious Vida Winter, whose popularity as a writer has been in no way diminished by her reclusiveness. Until now, Vida has toyed with journalists who interview her, creating outlandish life histories for herself – all of them invention. Now she is old and ailing, and at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. Her letter to Margaret is a summons.

Somewhat anxiously, the equally reclusive Margaret travels to Yorkshire to meet her subject – and Vida starts to recount her tale. It is one of gothic strangeness featuring the March family; the fascinating, devious and wilful Isabelle and the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline. Margaret is captivated by the power of Vida’s storytelling. But as a biographer she deals in fact not fiction, and she doesn’t entirely trust Vida’s account. She goes to check up on the family, visiting their old home and piecing together their story in her own way. What she discovers on her journey to the truth is for Margaret a chilling and transforming experience.

I was hooked on this book from the moment it came in the mail. The cover alone is enought to capture someone's attention. Then, you open to the first page and you are at the books mercy until the very last page. I had heard good things about this book, and I am glad I did, because I might have read it in the future, but I would have waited for the paperback, so it would have been sometime before I had the chance to read it. The praise for it, though, meant that I got to read it sooner rather than later.

The book opens with a woman and her trouble with the truth. All her life she has been telling people false stories about who she is. She is a famous author, Vida Winter, who everytime she gives an interview, she tells a made up story of who she is. So, many people read her novels, but they do not truly know the woman behind the story. She has reached a point in her life, though, where she feels she needs to tell people who she is. She enlists the main character for that task. The chance for this young lady to finally reveal to the world the truth of who Vida Winter is. The Thirteenth Tale.

The young lady that Miss Winters gets to write her biography, Margaret Lee, has been living above her fathers' bookstore, where she helps him. She has written a few biographies, but more for her interest than any fame. One of her relatively unknown biographies, though, attracts the attention of Miss Winters and the message behind the words encourages her to contact Miss Lee. Margaret is dealing with her own sense of loss and not knowing who she really is, so while she is skeptical at first, she eventually agrees to write Miss Winters story.

And, what a story it is. It is amazing how who she was before became this author that sits in front of Margaret now. She lead a hard life, and by the looks of all the pages she has written, managed to make something of herself. If anything, she is famous for her unfinished collection of short stories, a collection that has left the world wondering and which is the inspiration for this novel.

The truth, as Margaret Lee finds out, is not always what you expect. This is a mystery story, a mystery about who this woman really is. I wonder if people figure it out, I had an idea about what she was hiding, but I didn't really know for sure until the end of the novel. And even for having an idea, it did not take away from the ending at all. I just found myself sad at the end of the book, because it was over. I would never get to read this book for the first time again, but I will read it again. I want to know what new things you discover everytime, but I also just plain want to visit with Margaret and Vida again.

It is a very gothic novel, very dark, but just amazing. I have been telling people for a few weeks now to read this book. I cannot imagine anyone being disappointed.


Oh, in my excitement, I almost forgot. To see more about this book and purchase it, go here.


  1. I have this to pick up from the library, but I don't think it will be today now! Looking forward to it immensely

  2. Just finished it last night and posted about it this morning. What a phenomenal surprise. I loved every page...every word. Books like this always leave me equally thrilled and melancholy because, though I love reading and enjoy the books I read, special ones like this don't come along as often as they should.

    I'm trying to hold off having too many conversations about the book because I don't want to spoil anyone, but its not easy!

  3. I've had a hard time reading anything else after this book. Nothing compares.

  4. I saw this book and almost bought it based on that beautiful cover, and then someone compared it to Dickens, Bronte and Austen, all of which I cannot stand so I put it right back in the bookstand and walked away. LOL.

  5. It's not a romance novel. What comparisons were they trying to make?

  6. Oh, no, not another one to add to my list!! Would you believe I picked this up, read a little, thought, "Yeah, I want this," and put it back on the shelf? Thanks, another wonderful review. Now, I'm really going to have to buy it. :)

  7. It's a really good book, if I do say so myself. :)


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