Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”
― Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
Book Title: The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
Publication Date: 2006
Genres: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Goodreads Rating: 3.92 Stars 
My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise — she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story.

Both women will have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets… and the ghosts that haunt them still.

1. Yes, that rating is totally true. I can’t remember the last time I rated a book so high, but this book was fantastic. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately that take place across two time periods with two plot lines running through the book (namely, The Steady Running of the HourThe Post-Birthday World, and The Winter Sea), so I was a bit weary of taking on this novel, since it continues that trend. However, out of all the books that I named, this novel was my favorite (closely followed by The Winter Sea). The narrator’s plot line wasn’t so intense that it drowned out Vita Winter’s story, and Vita Winter’s story is so compelling and intricate, I was deeply enthralled.

2. The writing was incredible. The first few chapters about the narrator, Margaret Lea, threw me for a loop, because she was so verbose and intricate in her speech. That being said, I instantly liked her because of quotes like the one above and the last one below. This character is a reader, and that is her most identifiable trait. I kind of loved that. But once we start to see Vida Winter’s story, the writing was so inclusive and steady, I lost track of the fact that I was reading and I actually felt like I was falling into the world of Angelfield. It takes perfectly placed words to draw me in like that.

3. Vida Winter’s story is complex, and I loved it. Vida Winter is one of the most compelling characters I have ever met. The story of her birth, her life, and her twin made me keep coming back to it over and over. There were dark twists, hidden secrets, and inferences that Margaret made that brought the story full circle. Diane Setterfield did a masterful job of revealing the plot slowly through Vida’s storytelling and Margaret’s researching. I seriously cannot talk up this book enough.
Through intricate storytelling and well-written words, Setterfield masterfully reveals Vida Winter’s compelling story and the secrets of her dark past.
“People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in the ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.”
“There are too many books in the world to read in a single lifetime; you have to draw the line somewhere.”

“All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes — characters even — caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.”

“Of course I loved books more than people.”

“I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled.”

One thought on “Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s