Monday, October 12, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

Also reviewed by Heather, Kim, and Mindy.

Summary: Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author's tale of gothic strangeness--featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves. (Summary from back of the book and image from

My Review: I went into this book with the wrong pretense--I actually try not to read reviews or the backs of books before reading them because I don't like a book ruined. Note to any other readers: just because the word 'tale' is in the title does not mean it will be anything like a happy tale. It was, to me, surprisingly Gothic, with lots of dark images and themes. Sometimes the dark, hidden past seemed almost too much to want to read about. It is reality, but sometimes horrible realities are better left in the past. This book was borderline that way for me. What makes it readable is the lack of too much detail, leaving to the reader to read between the lines.

The Thirteenth Tale is extremely well written, to the point that as an avid reader the prose is delectable. I felt akin to the protagonist and her love of the written word. It was so easy to see myself doing the same as she, living between the lines, enjoying her cocoa, caught up in the pages.

The plot is engaging and despite the foreshadowing, takes the reader by surprise at the end. It hints of Jane Eyre and follows similar themes at certain points, although it did not leave me feeling complete the way Jane Eyre does. I would definitely recommend this to an avid reader.

An aspect of the book that rubbed me wrong, for quite a bit of the story, was the twin aspect. It seemed highly over played. It felt like the twin situation was made to seem almost supernatural. And, honestly, I just can't buy that. I've never watched a twin situation where that was the case, so this seemed a bit fantastical. I guess I'll have to do some more research in the area to be definitive.

There were parts that made me want to throw the book or shake the protagonist, but I guess that's a good sign that it brought out such emotion in me. At about the 320 page mark I was ready to chew out the author because of how the story was unfolding, but the ending makes the read and wait worth it. I do have to mention that Margaret Lea does some really stupid things. Going with a man you met while visiting a forsaken burn site in the middle of nowhere, to his home after only one meeting, is just STUPID. Thankfully he turned out to be harmless and kind. STILL. It rubbed me so very wrong. She also continues forward when so many warning signs were going off in my mind. If you knew someone in the house could possibly be so violent as to kill someone, wouldn't you be hesitant in staying there? Just seemed obvious to me that you don't put yourself in bad situations, especially if someone sought you out and commissioned you to stay at her in-the-middle-of-nowhere-home. I'm just saying. The set up felt too much like one of those awful hollywood horror movies.

I don't want to ruin the book: the ending makes the story though. There is so much to discuss and to do so here would simply give away too much. So, I'm ending.

Rating: 4.5 Stars A great read, but didn't quite satisfy like a 5 star book would.

In a phrase: A dark book with a great ending.


Amy said...

Thanks for the review. I loved this book.

Heather said...

Aha! I found your book blog. Looks like a fun place. I enjoyed your review and agree that the Margaret Lea's ghost twin bit was a little hard to swallow. I haven't written mine up yet... I'm more than a little behind.

Margaret Taylor said...

Ooh, I've been meaning to read this.

Anonymous said...

I loved this book too. It haunted my dreams and once I finished I sat there thinking about it and not moving for about half an hour. I didn't know much about it...I was drawn in because of the books on the cover. It was dark and Gothic, but I liked it.


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