― Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
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.
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.
“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.”