Review – The Thirteenth Tale
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  • Posted:
  • August 30, 2013

 

thirteenth tale

The Thirteenth Tale is a debut novel from British author Diane Setterfield. It’s one of those books that blew up upon arrival in 2006. Back then everyone told me that I should read it and that I would love it. In the reviewing world it sometimes takes decades to get around to all those books that are on our to-be-read piles. Fortunately for me my book group forced me to cut this short of a possible decade long wait.

The Thirteenth Tale is right up my alley – dark, gothic, full of ghosts and intrigue, and a family story spanning generations. Long story short it was worth the wait.

Margaret Lea is an amateur biographer who grew up in an antiquarian book shop. Her Father reared her on Bronte and Collins and encouraged her writing when her heart turned to truth instead of fiction. One day another takes note of Margaret’s penchant for fact. A letter arrives from a woman who everyone in the book world knows; Vida Winter. Miss Winter is accomplished and widely successful for many years. She’s also reclusive, choosing to botch every journalists’ attempt to accurately report the facts of her life. Margaret’s inclination is to politely refuse until she reads her father’s rare copy of Vida’s beloved book Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. His edition is special, a first printing with the original title and there is no thirteenth tale. Margaret finds she has to know what it is and responds to Winter’s letter. Winter brings Margaret to her home, the once stately Angelfield. Winter is dying and wants Margaret to record her story for posterity. Margaret, intrigued by Winter’s haunted past, does not refuse. Thus begins the story of Winter and the ghosts that dwell in Angelfield.

Setterfield’s novel is ambitious and absorbing. It’s one of those novels that takes dedication on the reader’s part. This is not a novel for readers who only want action and plot. This is an intense, delicately paced character driven book. The life and times of Vida Winter are not for the faint of heart. Her story shows people at their worst and a house darkened by secrets and festering with fear and grief. It’s rife with gothic suspense and it draws the reader in.

I was sucked in from page one and I, like Margaret, had to know Winter’s secrets. As we go on the book becomes multi-layered, revealing more questions than it answers. Admittedly, there were times that I found the pacing a little too slow and I lost track of some of the detail from lack of focus. But the overall telling is exquisite and darkly rendered. I enjoyed reading it and I know exactly what to recommend when people ask for a great, thoroughly involved read.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

– BP

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