-by Diane Setterfield
416 pages (2006)
MY RATING: 4/5
Tell me the truth..." Buy The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel at Amazon.com 02/23/2007
“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 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 ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved....”
Setterfield’s novel The Thirteenth Tale is a captivating debut — brimming with complex twists, secrets, confused identities, squeaky staircases and gothic-like intrigue — conjuring up loose comparisons to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Brönte’s Jane Eyre.At the heart of the story is Margaret Lea, a plain bookish girl who works in her father’s antiquarian bookstore in London. Constantly surrounded and preoccupied with books, she has also written a minority of amateur biographies of relatively unknown historical figures.The intrigue commences when a mysterious letter arrives for Margaret, from Vida Winters – an eccentric famous author who insists on confounding her aficionados and biographers with fictional adaptations of her life story with an oath of their authenticity. Aside from countless best sellers, Winters has also written a book entitled “The Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation” which, curiously enough, only contains 12 stories. The letter summons Margaret to Winter’s home where she is asked by the terminally ill author to embark on a biography of her life at the tragic Anglefield Estate. It is a story of twins, shadows, scandal, and deception.
As work on the biography begins, both Winters and Margaret struggle to deal with the truth of their painful pasts. Not before the dreadful realities are skillfully revealed by the author, the secret behind the strangely absent “thirteenth tale” is finally uncovered.
The Thirteenth Tale succeeds in being equally heart-pounding and heart-wrenching, and most definitely worth a read. One can only look forward to Diane Setterfield’s next novel.
Buy The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel at Amazon.com