Monday, August 30, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - Book Review #75

Monday, August 30, 2010
The Thirteenth Tale
by Diane Setterfield

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. In the end, both women have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets. As well as the ghosts that haunt them still.

“Everyone has a story.”

The Thirteenth Tale is a mesmerizing, breath-taking gothic story, written in the best traditions of 19th century British novels. You have a writer, you have a storyteller and you have a listener. You have a murder (and not one), a mad woman (also not only one), an overgrown garden, moors, an old family estate that falling apart with the old housekeeper that remembers the beginning of the family. And of course you have a SECRET, a mystery that has been kept for generations and you are the lucky one, out of not many, to get the answers, if only you play by the rules. However, unlike most of the gothic stories of 19th century, this one ends with redemption.

The Thirteenth Tale is one of those books that captivate you from the first word. This is one of the books where you can completely lose yourself, forgetting about reality and living in the story. The Thirteenth Tale is the book that will keep you guessing until the last page, not letting your attention to slip for a single moment and praising you graciously at the end for the loyalty.

"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."

This quote from The Thirteenth Tale explains my experience with this book. This is the book that will get “caught in the fiber of your clothes” and in the gyrus of your mind. So beware, it will suck you in and will not let you go even after you finished it.


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