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[282] The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield

I have closed my study door on the world and shut myself away with people of my imagination. For nearly sixty years I have eavesdropped with impunity on the lives of people who do not exist . . . I have seen their dreams. [113]

Wildly popular and prolific author Vida Winter has entranced readers for over sixty years with her books. But the reclusive author scarcely reveals the truth of her life. Over the years she has satisfied snoopy and importuning interviewers with stories—sometimes odds and ends fallen out of editing her books—that look like real life. Old and ailing, feeling the clock inside her is ticking away, Miss Winter calls on Margaret Lea, a young biographer who is also coming to terms with her own history, and disinters the life she is intent to bury for good. Little does Margaret expect that the tale unveiled, which involves feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a disappearing governess, a devastating fire, bears a gothic strangeness, revolving around a house called Angelfield.

After giving birth to the twin girls, who were then left to the mercy of the housekeeper and the gardener, Isabelle went away to escape the dark, unbrotherly passion of her brother, Charlie. Eventually she met her destiny at the asylum. Neglected by Isabelle, Charlie went on a rampage, venting his rage and passion. He, too, later disappeared from the house where he had taken hermitage.

For although everyone knew Vida Winter—knew her name, knew her face, knew her books—at the same time nobody knew her. As famous for her secrets as for her stories, she was a perfect mystery. [11]

What I didn’t know—and this was more than curious—was what the storyteller thought. In telling her tale, Miss Winter was like the light that illuminates everything but itself. She was the disappearing point at the heart of the narrative. [111]

Reader cannot help scratching his mind about what Vida Winter’s bearing is in respect to the happenings at Angelfield. What could be the cause of her distancing herself from the story? That more layers of the story have been peeled does not gain insight into the compelling and emotional mystery of family secrets is what makes The Thirteenth Tale riveting. But there exists a subtle hint, in the form of a recurring stylistic motif. In telling the story, Vida Winter frequently changes the point of view from third to first person. This will become a significant point to account for how stories within stories, all inextricably intertwined, weave their way through the family secrets.

The ghost was, in the usual way of ghosts, most invisible, and yet not quite invisible. There was the closing of doors that had been left open, and the opening of doors left shut. The flash of movement in a mirror that made you glance up. The shimmer of a draft behind a curtain when there was no window open. [349]

Is the house haunted? Does the ghost murder? As Margaret checks up on the family, visiting their old home and piecing together their story in her own way, all the pieces of the puzzle seem to fall into place. The Thirteenth Tale deals with madness, sexual obsession, and murder in a very sweeping atmosphere. At the core of the novel is the deep-running twinness of the feral twins that renders their being resistant to the idea of having separate identity. That natural instinct to being as one can be both love and hatred.

405 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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30 Responses

  1. I read this book the summer I started blogging. Absolutely LOVED it!!

  2. Oh I loved this book so much! This was the first book I ever read that actually made me gag. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. But even so, I really appreciated the impact it had on me!

  3. I read this book when it first came out and was quite surprised by how good it was. I didn’t see a lot of the twists coming and that’s such a rarity these days. I kept hoping that the author would follow it up with another book but so far, I haven’t heard that anything is in the works.

    • Imagine all the brainstorming and thinking that had gone into producing this work. Like you, I’m keeping an eye on her future works. 🙂

  4. I first read the book with a jaundiced eye, but the atmosphere, like you have mentioned, so sweeping and suspenseful, had quickly pulled me into the book. It’s a great read.

    • I can understand why you didn’t have too much of an expectation. I am too, afraid of the hype of a bestseller. This one is an exception. I totally didn’t see the twists coming and she ties the bundle very neatly.

  5. I loved your words on this book. I have it to read and now I’m trying to find it in my library so that I can get to it this year!

  6. The audio of this book left me mesmerized. Such a wonderful story! I just didn’t want it to end. You have certainly done it justice with your review!

    • You seem to have made the right decision for audio books. Didn’t you listen to The Little Stranger as well? Which one freakier for you? I am looking forward to her future works.

  7. I read this book ages ago but still remember it clearly. Definitely a fun, suspenseful read. Great review!

  8. This seems like a great book to follow up your Sarah Waters reads! I read it a few summers ago and really enjoyed it – it was a great pool read!

  9. Thanks for this review! My book club selected it for our August book, and I was a little sceptical. Your review has made me look forward to reading this!

  10. This was a fun read–great review. I agree with Steph, this is a good book for the pool, or the beach, this summer.

  11. A fellow blogger recommended this one to me a few years ago when I first started my blog. Sadly, I have never gotten around to reading it. Your review concurs with hers and reminds me that I need to move this up my to be read pile!

    • I haven’t got around reading this novel because I have been confused with books that have similar titles: The Book Thief, The Thirteenth Tale, The Book of Lost Things…, etc. Now I have to look for The Book Thief.

  12. I bought this in hardcover when it first came out, and I still haven’t picked it up. Your review is making me think that I’ve erred and should definitely make some time for this one.

  13. When I lived in San Francisco, I participated in a local bookstore’s First Editions Club (one a month) and this is one of the books I got. But it’s been sitting on my TBR shelf ever since. I really must read it!

    Thanks for the great review.

  14. This is a perfect book for readers and book lovers. 🙂 I hope you’ll enjoy all the twists and turns.

  15. I listened to this one on audio and something about the novel just didn’t work for me. I had a hard time “suspending my disbelief” so to speak. I will admit, though, the story has stayed with me.

  16. Love, love this book, all thanks to your review! I prefer this to The Little Stranger! Kept thinking that the story she was narrating was THE thirteenth tale.

  17. […] to me. The whole time I was reading this I could only think about how much it reminded me of The Thirteenth Tale. It vaguely echoes The Glass of Time by Michael Cox but it lacks the polished style of Cox’s […]

  18. […] Diversion « … on [340] The Glass of Time …A Diversion « … on [282] The Thirteenth Tale …Marie on A DiversionStaci on A DiversionKathleen on Size […]

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