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When Margaret Lea opened the door to the past, what she confronted was her destiny.

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.

Topics: Debut, Metafiction, England, Suspenseful, Dark, Twins, Family, Ghosts, Secrets, Writers, Writing, Death, Female Friendship, Dysfunctional Family, Gothic, and Female Protagonist

Published: Atria Books on
ISBN: 9781416540533
List price: $13.99
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One of the best books I've read in a long time. I could not put the book down!more
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane SetterfieldMargaret helps her father in his antiquarian bookshop. She also writes short bios or essays on long dead authors. She is fascinated by the written word of a hundred years ago. He father attempts to get her to read current fiction but she doesn't enjoy it. Among her favorites are Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Woman in White. She leads a quiet life living in a small flat above that of her parents. Margaret was born one of a pair of twins. Her twin died at birth and so did a part of her mother. While her father is very engaged in her life and shares a great deal in common with Margaret, her mother is a rather cold and distant part of her life. She doesn't often leave the flat and returns home quite disturbed when she does. One rainy evening returning from her outside work, Margaret finds, waiting on the step for her, a letter from the very prominent author Vida Winter. She sits down upon the step to read the letter. "(I never read without making sure I am in a secure position. I have been like this ever since the age of seven when, sitting on a high wall and reading The Water Babies, I was so seduced by the descriptions of underwater life that I unconsciously relaxed my muscles. Instead of being held buoyant by the water that so vividly surrounded me in my mind, I plummeted to the ground and knocked myself out. I can still feel the scar under my fringe now. Reading can be dangerous.)" Ms Winter has never given an authentic interview. They all somehow turn into a piece of fiction, a story. But in her letter to Margaret she invites her to come and meet with her. She wants Margaret to write an honest biography of her life. Margaret is hesitant but after talking it over with her father she decides to meet with Ms. Winter. When she arrives she is taken to the library and while waiting she peruses the shelves and happily finds the books that she herself has so loved. She also finds many editions of each book that Ms. Winter has written except for her much talked about Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. This book is a compilation of Ms Winter's own renditions of fairy tales. Margaret had read her fathers much protected edition of the book the night she received the letter and found the tales to be "brutal and sharp and heartbreaking" but she loved them. When she came to the end of the twelfth tale upon turning the next pages she found that there was no "thirteenth tale". When she asked her father why the book was so valuable he told her "Partly because it's the first edition of the first book by the most famous living writer in the English language. But mostly because it's flawed. Every following edition is called Tales of Change and Desperation. No mention of thirteen. You'll have noticed there are only twelve stories?" There were supposed to have been thirteen stories but only twelve were submitted and there was a mix-up with the jacket design. The book was printed with the original title but only twelve stories. They were recalled except for one which had already been sold. Margaret's father had purchased that edition from a collector. People still called the book the Thirteen Tales even though the corrected title Tales of Change and Desperation had been published for over fifty years.During the interview with Vida Winter regarding the biography Margaret is told that Ms Winter wishes to tell the whole truth about her life and she thinks that Margaret is the writer to do it. Margaret reluctantly agrees to do it.And so begins "The Thirteenth Tale.It is an often bizaare and queer tale beginning with the fact that Ms Winter is one of a set of twins just as is Margaret. The story is being told now because Ms Winter is old, ill and has waited too long to tell it herself. In fact she is ill enough that they only meet daily at times when Ms Winter is strong enough to tell more of the story. Margaret spends hours in the evenings transcribing what she has been told that day.The story is of a village, Angelfield; a house, Angelfield and the Angelfield family of George, Mathilde; their children Charlie and Isabelle, Isabelle's children Emmeline and Adeline and 'their ghost'. Mathilde dies in childbirth with Isabelle and during the birthing, the baby is deprived of oxygen. She becomes known by all as odd. Her brother develops an unnatural obsession with Isabelle. They play strange games, don't develop as 'normal' youth do and eventually she runs off, marries, gives birth to the twins, her husband dies of pneumonia and she returns with her twin girls to the family estate. Only Charlie and the servants remain, her father having pined away to death upon her leaving.The twins grow up wild and in their own world. Through their lives come others wanting to help but eventually all who remain are the housekeeper, the head gardener, the girls...and the story..........This story is so fascinating that to put it down even the one time was torture. It was a two sitting read. I found all of the characters to be believable. And the only fault I could find came at the end of the book and was with the doctor, the cat, and the invitation. That didn't ring true to me with the storyline. But this was a five star read for me and I very highly recommend it.more
Overall a very Gothic tale — not just in the sense of those novels like "Jane Eyre" that at least in part inspired it, but with just a hint of the tradition of the [U.S.:] Southern Gothic.

The story drew me in and absorbed me. Although I think the author "played fair," I was still caught off-guard by the twist in the story — I can usually suss out a plot better than most.

I have only two quibbling criticisms of the book. One was that our narrator seems to have been caught in amber before she is contacted by Vida Winter (I keep wanting to say, "DeWinter" — echoes of "Rebecca"?) She seems to have been utterly pinned at the start of the story but did not seem at all distressed about it. Also, she never has it out with her own distant mother. That didn't make much sense, in the context of the rest of the book.

Also, the storytelling at points felt almost Byzantine. I began some sections clueless as to whether I was inside the Narrator's story or Ms. Winter's.

Still and all, it succeeds as a novel. I don't think that it really rises to the level of its literary progenitors, but for a modern tale, it's extremely well done.more
Finished it last night.
It started a bit slow for me but i decided to give it a chance and glad I did. Once I was pulled into the story i could not stop reading which means 3 nights of me hardly sleeping. I just kept on reading.


The end was a bit weird for me. A bit far fetched but all in all I am so glad i did give this a try. For 3 days I had a blast. Now I need to rest. :)
more
Read all 396 reviews

Reviews

One of the best books I've read in a long time. I could not put the book down!more
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane SetterfieldMargaret helps her father in his antiquarian bookshop. She also writes short bios or essays on long dead authors. She is fascinated by the written word of a hundred years ago. He father attempts to get her to read current fiction but she doesn't enjoy it. Among her favorites are Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Woman in White. She leads a quiet life living in a small flat above that of her parents. Margaret was born one of a pair of twins. Her twin died at birth and so did a part of her mother. While her father is very engaged in her life and shares a great deal in common with Margaret, her mother is a rather cold and distant part of her life. She doesn't often leave the flat and returns home quite disturbed when she does. One rainy evening returning from her outside work, Margaret finds, waiting on the step for her, a letter from the very prominent author Vida Winter. She sits down upon the step to read the letter. "(I never read without making sure I am in a secure position. I have been like this ever since the age of seven when, sitting on a high wall and reading The Water Babies, I was so seduced by the descriptions of underwater life that I unconsciously relaxed my muscles. Instead of being held buoyant by the water that so vividly surrounded me in my mind, I plummeted to the ground and knocked myself out. I can still feel the scar under my fringe now. Reading can be dangerous.)" Ms Winter has never given an authentic interview. They all somehow turn into a piece of fiction, a story. But in her letter to Margaret she invites her to come and meet with her. She wants Margaret to write an honest biography of her life. Margaret is hesitant but after talking it over with her father she decides to meet with Ms. Winter. When she arrives she is taken to the library and while waiting she peruses the shelves and happily finds the books that she herself has so loved. She also finds many editions of each book that Ms. Winter has written except for her much talked about Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. This book is a compilation of Ms Winter's own renditions of fairy tales. Margaret had read her fathers much protected edition of the book the night she received the letter and found the tales to be "brutal and sharp and heartbreaking" but she loved them. When she came to the end of the twelfth tale upon turning the next pages she found that there was no "thirteenth tale". When she asked her father why the book was so valuable he told her "Partly because it's the first edition of the first book by the most famous living writer in the English language. But mostly because it's flawed. Every following edition is called Tales of Change and Desperation. No mention of thirteen. You'll have noticed there are only twelve stories?" There were supposed to have been thirteen stories but only twelve were submitted and there was a mix-up with the jacket design. The book was printed with the original title but only twelve stories. They were recalled except for one which had already been sold. Margaret's father had purchased that edition from a collector. People still called the book the Thirteen Tales even though the corrected title Tales of Change and Desperation had been published for over fifty years.During the interview with Vida Winter regarding the biography Margaret is told that Ms Winter wishes to tell the whole truth about her life and she thinks that Margaret is the writer to do it. Margaret reluctantly agrees to do it.And so begins "The Thirteenth Tale.It is an often bizaare and queer tale beginning with the fact that Ms Winter is one of a set of twins just as is Margaret. The story is being told now because Ms Winter is old, ill and has waited too long to tell it herself. In fact she is ill enough that they only meet daily at times when Ms Winter is strong enough to tell more of the story. Margaret spends hours in the evenings transcribing what she has been told that day.The story is of a village, Angelfield; a house, Angelfield and the Angelfield family of George, Mathilde; their children Charlie and Isabelle, Isabelle's children Emmeline and Adeline and 'their ghost'. Mathilde dies in childbirth with Isabelle and during the birthing, the baby is deprived of oxygen. She becomes known by all as odd. Her brother develops an unnatural obsession with Isabelle. They play strange games, don't develop as 'normal' youth do and eventually she runs off, marries, gives birth to the twins, her husband dies of pneumonia and she returns with her twin girls to the family estate. Only Charlie and the servants remain, her father having pined away to death upon her leaving.The twins grow up wild and in their own world. Through their lives come others wanting to help but eventually all who remain are the housekeeper, the head gardener, the girls...and the story..........This story is so fascinating that to put it down even the one time was torture. It was a two sitting read. I found all of the characters to be believable. And the only fault I could find came at the end of the book and was with the doctor, the cat, and the invitation. That didn't ring true to me with the storyline. But this was a five star read for me and I very highly recommend it.more
Overall a very Gothic tale — not just in the sense of those novels like "Jane Eyre" that at least in part inspired it, but with just a hint of the tradition of the [U.S.:] Southern Gothic.

The story drew me in and absorbed me. Although I think the author "played fair," I was still caught off-guard by the twist in the story — I can usually suss out a plot better than most.

I have only two quibbling criticisms of the book. One was that our narrator seems to have been caught in amber before she is contacted by Vida Winter (I keep wanting to say, "DeWinter" — echoes of "Rebecca"?) She seems to have been utterly pinned at the start of the story but did not seem at all distressed about it. Also, she never has it out with her own distant mother. That didn't make much sense, in the context of the rest of the book.

Also, the storytelling at points felt almost Byzantine. I began some sections clueless as to whether I was inside the Narrator's story or Ms. Winter's.

Still and all, it succeeds as a novel. I don't think that it really rises to the level of its literary progenitors, but for a modern tale, it's extremely well done.more
Finished it last night.
It started a bit slow for me but i decided to give it a chance and glad I did. Once I was pulled into the story i could not stop reading which means 3 nights of me hardly sleeping. I just kept on reading.


The end was a bit weird for me. A bit far fetched but all in all I am so glad i did give this a try. For 3 days I had a blast. Now I need to rest. :)
more
I'm right with Setterfield in her love of classic gothic fiction, particularly Jane Eyre, and I think this book was intended as a loving tribute. It falls frustratingly short however. Lame, wordy sentences, predictable plots, including far too many indigestible coincidences. Subplots that are un-integrated and so waste our time. [grr....:]. A letdown ending. Above all, the first person narrator remains emotionally cool throughout, as icy, in the end, as Ms. Winters herself, and so the reader too, remains untransformed.more
I really enjoyed the story...very spooky and mysterious. However, I could tell that it was written by a former academic, and the language sometimes irritated. There were one or two parts that seemed to drag, but otherwise I hated to put it down and couldn't wait to pick it back up again to hear more of Miss Winter's story and discover the secrets that Margaret was unraveling.more
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