The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Published by Atria Books on September 12, 2006
Genre(s): fiction, historical fiction, mystery, suspense
Format & Length: e-book, 416
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Sometimes, when you open the door to the past, what you confront is your destiny.
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 the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.
“Everybody has a story. It’s like families. You might not know who they are, might have lost them, but they exist all the same. You might drift apart or you might turn your back on them, but you can’t say you haven’t got them. Same goes for stories.”
Wow. What a story this was. I don’t even remember how many times The Thirteenth Tale caught my eye when I was browsing through Barnes and Noble over the past several years, but for some reason, each time, I decided to put it back in favor of getting a different book. Upon seeing it on sale for nook, I purchased and started reading it as soon as possible. Now my current self wishes my past self hadn’t put it off for so long!
“I listened to her story, I wrote the story, when I slept I dreamed the story, and when I was awake it was the story that formed the constant backdrop of my thoughts. It was like living entirely inside a book.”
Then again, maybe this was simple a case of the right book finding me at the right time. Because this book was perfection. It spoke to me. Despite having barely anything in common with any of the characters (except for the love of books), I was transported into their worlds and able to relate to them and their stories on a personal level. As is probably obvious from the title, there are multiple layers within this book. There is not just one story within the story, but multiple stories within the story. And they all tie in together beautifully.
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner.”
Setterfield’s writing is stunning. It is both lyrical and functional; vivid and expressive without using more words than necessary to get her point across. Her words capture all of your senses to embed you within the world she has created in this novel. With seemingly effortless ease, she portrays a gothic drama/mystery that has a decided sense of bizarreness and creepiness with a dash of dry humor that cut through it flawlessly.
“Time was of the essence. For at eight o’clock the world came to an end. It was reading time.”
No book can be perfect for everyone. But The Thirteenth Tale has become my new all time favorite book. Upon completion, I ordered a paper version immediately to have in my library and reread as soon as my schedule will allow. If you like gothic dramas or mysteries, books about reading and stories within stories, definitely try this out. I cannot recommend it highly enough.