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
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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
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. :)
Upon revisiting the story, I was able to appreciate even more the incredibly beautiful prose of Diane Setterfield. Her language lilts and carries me away in a delightful way. Her writing is both complicated and completely natural, much like the classic authors she frequently references. The storyline was both improved and diminished by my return journey. How? Well, the twist, which is so astounding, I remembered. This also made some of the more long-winded sections drag a bit, although the sections on Vida Winter's past always drew me in. At the same time, being able to really note all of the hints left for the reader let me appreciate the deft way in which the solution to the mystery was woven into the story. The plot seems less implausible with more attention paid to the details.
My only complaint is about the Postscriptum, which I found to be cheesy, overly fanciful and plain pointless. It really irritated me, because I loved the way the story resolved before I read it and then was unhappy with this new ending. Still, epilogues (or postscriptum, should one want to be fancy) have been the bane on the existence of many books (e.g. Crime and Punishment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) and will likely continue to be. I, for one, will simply do my best to forget about the second ending. (And, knowing my memory, I shall triumph!)
Book lovers must read this! The early chapters of the novel are a love letter to reading that just made my heart soar with glee. Just make sure you sit down as you enjoy this one, because, as Margaret Lea cautions, "Reading can be dangerous" (4).more
This book falls into a third category. I didn't devour this book in a mad dash, always seeking the next page, the next chapter. And I definitely didn't hold my nose to endure the story. No, this was a book that I savored. I found every morsel of the story to be absolutely delicious. And I am kind of upset I didn't read it sooner.
I will start with what I didn't like, because there isn't much. Because this is a story about stories, and there are a lot of them, the narrative voice changes a lot. For me, this was really jarring. Going back and forth between first person and third person, and then having the person who was speaking in third person switch to first person... it took away from my overall enjoyment. It pulled me out of the story while I tried to figure out whose story we were focusing on.
The other thing I didn't like was that the author seemed to approach a lot of things with a very vague hand. In some instances it helped to build the mystery, but in most it just confused me, especially when a detail was revealed or talked about in greater detail.
The writing was superb. I found the novel delightfully verbose in the best possible way. Not having read a lot of the "classics" (Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, etc.) I can't make a comparison there, but I do know it read a lot like Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I could quote this book for days.
"He didn't know, of course. Not really. And yet that was what he said, and I was soothed to hear it. For I knew what he meant. We all have our sorrows, and although the exact delineaments, weight and dimensions of grief are different for everyone, the color of grief is common to us all. "I know," he said, because he was human, and therefore, in a way, he did."
With the exception of Miss Winter, I found all the characters who were meant to be well-developed to be just that. They were likeable, they made me feel for them. And Diane Setterfield created an unlikely character in the Angelfield house. Miss Winter kept a shroud of mystery around her through it all and I felt she was somewhat distanced from the reader. Even in telling her truth, her story, we don't get to know HER.
The plot, I think, is exactly what it was meant to be. This is in no way a fast-paced action-packed mystery. It is a slower story with a build that leaves you seeking answers. So if you are after something that will set your pulse racing and your palms sweating, this is probably not the book for you. I didn't feel compelled to read into the night, but I did think about the book an awful lot when I wasn't reading it.
Bottom line: I loved this book. It is not an action-packed mystery, but more of a slow-to-build story that leads to a big reveal and a satisfying conclusion. If this author were to ever publish anything else, I would read it in a heartbeat.more
The Thirteenth Tale is about a very famous writer, Vida Winter, that has made it a habbit of making up her biography and telling it as she would one of her books. There are hundreds of known biographies for this writer. None of them are the same and none of them the truth. That is until she contacts Margaret Lea, an amatuer biographer. Vida finally wants to tell her true story. Margeret has no idea what she is signing up for at the time, but what unfolds touches both her heart and her life.
Diane Setterfeild has an amazing writing style. She is one of few writers that is actually able to give each of her characters thier own true and distinguishable voice. You can feel her passion for books in the way she describes them and in the way she writes.
Truly a fantastic read for anyone that has ever loved a book.more
I really enjoyed this book. It is a book written by a book lover, which is interesting. Also the main story is about twins. My mother is a twin and it gave me an insight to what it would be like to be a twin. It was a well done story! If you like stories filled with everything I highly recommend this book. I have been eyeing it for awhile and I am glad that I finally took the time to read it.more