The protagonist, Margaret, grew up in a bookstore and learned to read using 19th century novels, and there are clear parallels in the story to Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Turn of the Screw, and so on. One of the problems, in my opinion, is that it seems Setterfield wanted a "Chinese box" construction ala Wuthering Heights, but whereas that novel drew me in and made me feel like I was personally sitting at Nelly's feet as she told me the story of Heathcliff and Cathy, somehow Setterfield's construction (in which the novelist Vida Winter tells Margaret her story, and does so using third person, for a reason revealed later in the novel) feels very distanced. One wishes A.S. Byatt had written this novel, as I suspect Setterfield may not have felt up to the task of writing "the thirteenth tale," which has a fascinating premise. With all of the wonderful Victorian-style writing going on now from former academics like Sarah Waters and AS Byatt, it's too bad this book didn't measure up.
Lots of people told me that this was a book I needed to read, but many of those people also warned me that I might find it slow. Do you like...?: 1) Books 2) Mysteries 3) Family dramas If you said yes to those, then I really can't see any reason you wouldn't love this book. I find myself believing that had I not already been a bibliophile, an encounter with this book would be enough to have me drooling over the endless possibilities and magic that lie within stories. I must confess that I am almost always a story person first, a character person at a close second and a language/word person last. The story is about a biographer called Margaret Lea who very suddenly and unexpectedly receives a hand-written letter from the popular and critically-acclaimed novelist - Vida Winters. Before accepting, Margaret reads and falls in love with one of the author's books called Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, but she is surprised to find that it contains only twelve stories...
"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 themescharacters evencaught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you" This quote from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield sums up my experience with the book. There is no reference to time in the setting of The Thirteenth Tale.
"Tell me the truth." These are the words that a young journalist speaks to Vida Winter in the beginning of this book. Each time she releases a new story, she grants multiple interviews, in which every journalist asks her the story of her life, and leaves thinking that they, finally, after decades of deceptions, are the one she's told the truth to. Because The Thirteenth Tale is a book that you need to read at least twice in your life. This is easily one of my top 10 books of all time.
Reviewed by: Rabid Reads So here's my problem with gothic literature: it's so habitually grotesque that it's predictable. If there's not incest, there's a crazy wife in the attic. If there's not a crazy wife in the attic, there's a murderous illegitimate son who's not right in the head. Or conjoined twins. Me: B/c didn't realize it was gothic until I'd already started it. But now she's dying, so she contacts our MC (Margaret), an amateur biographer who's grown up in her father's rare bookshop (a bibliophile's DREAM), and employs Margaret to write her life story before she leaves this mortal coil. Including Margaret, who has an unhealthy fixation on her dead-shortly-after-birth twin sister. And even if you avoid gothic novels like I do, this one .
Now, what one requires from printed matter may not at all do for the recorded book, and in my case, it turns out that I can only sustain listening interesting in heavily plot-driven novels (or extra dorkified pod-casts of "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me"... The literary writer trying on genre often works well (John Banville as Benjamin Black is pretty good)--forgive my snobbery--but only because the conventions of a straightforward mystery or sci-fi novel can be a little cringe-inducing when you actually hear them recited aloud. Check, and Check!" Unfortunately, I think the voice I was hearing in my head was actually Diane Setterfield's cajoling, coercive, whinging, and not my own. Emphasis on coercive--my main gripe about this mess of a novel is that while reading I couldn't shake the feeling that the author is constantly trying to impress upon the reader--HOODWINK INTO BELIEVING, more like it--that this piece of moribund trash is actually a work of serious literature. The two main characters are both twins (not each other's), whose core-identity has been formed by this (as Diane Setterfield would have it) division of one soul, one egg, one person, into two bodies. I mean, as a committed life long reader I have never encountered nor thought of such a bold notion--author's words outlive their bodies and thus reading might be an act of communion with the dead? Fortunately for my feeble and limited imagination, Setterfield ensures that such concepts are inescapable in her novel's groundbreaking treatise on the delights literature has to offer. Setterfield makes the further mistake of declaring that Margaret's counterpoint, Vida Winter, is the greatest living English author of her day, a point that is crucial to the story's operation. Setterfield's insistence that we believe Winter is a cannonized author damages the credibility of the rest of the novel, especially as it relates to the reader's required suspension of disbelief. Of course, the problem is that Setterfield is not (nor should she be) the greatest living English author, nor even close to it, and she's overreaching in trying to depict Winter as such. But my feeling is that what could have been a fun homage to the nineteenth century novel became instead a dull trainwreck of a book, derailed by its own inflated sense of literary import.
I rarely read a book twice but when this came up for a sit in book group I was so excited as I longed to pull the curtains and welcome in the Autumn nights with this wonderful multi-layered mystery with its gothic athmosphere that gave me chills down my spine. So if like me you enjoy, Abandoned manor homes where secrets and mysteries lure the reader in then this may well work for you.
''We live like latecomers at the theatre; we must catch up as best we can, dividing the beginning from the shape of later events.'' The Thirteenth Tale had been ''waiting'' in my TBR list for almost two years, before I finally decided to start reading it. Foreboding houses, problematic narrators, troubled heroines, and all the sins and faults of the past that go on haunting families and places. Margaret is a very interesting character that stands as equal to the troubled Vida.
Whiich is apt seeing as amonst other things it is the tale of books and their words sucking you in. Like The House at Riverton it has a very Brontesque Gothic atmosphere to it; it is also set in Cambridge and the Yorkshire Moors - my two favourite places! Maybe it is my utter empathy with the narrator, which I got with the Little Friend and also from the characters in The Secret History. In fact the Thirteenth Tale is unashamedly Jane Eyre (mixed with a little Wilkie Collins and Henry James), but it is in such a way that the book is a homily to Charlotte rather than a plagerism.
This story-telling tradition strongly reminds the reader of earlier classic tales. The settings and characters are familiar to us from earlier books too. Margaret Lea is an introverted young woman, living and working in her father's antiquarian bookshop. Of course Margaret has to work in an antiquarian bookshop to be privy to this book. Who does that make the reader think of in a novel with an oldfashioned feel, where the heroine so far is a nervous young woman about to set foot in an enormous old mansion inhabited by an imposing elderly woman? Again, the early part of the descriptions, where Margaret Lea meets the author are a joy to read. We are still very early on in the novel and it is beginning to feel derivative. The reader has espied references to "Jane Eyre", "Wuthering Heights" and "Rebecca", and when Vida begins the tale of her life story "The Turn of the Screw" and "The Woman in White" come instantly to mind. As the novel proceeds the reader develops more of an interest in the retelling of Vida Winter's story as well as her (view spoiler)gradual deterioration, mirrored by the mental deterioration of the viewpoint character, Margaret.
Her bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale (2006) was published in 38 countries worldwide and has sold more than three million copies. After schooldays at Theale Green, Diane studied French Literature at the University of Bristol. Diane Setterfield has been published in over forty countries.