I loved this book. Totally and absolutely. The suspense kept me at the edge of my seat and the novel captured my imagination right from the first page.
The famous reclusive author Vida Winter finally wants to tell her life’s story, the whole truth. When she contacts antique bookseller Margaret Lea about it, Margaret is naturally surprised: she has the barest of publishing credits and is more of a hobby writer. But nevertheless, Ms. Winter’s story of twins grips her, because Margaret has lost a twin as well. And of course, there is the mystery of The Thirteenth Tale, the missing story in the Ms. Winter’s most famous book. As Ms. Winter narrates the story of love and loss, of siblings Charlie and Isabelle, and of the twins Adeline and Emmeline, Margaret is drawn in, but nothing in this story is what it seems.
I liked Setterfield’s literate style of writing, it’s like reading the classics. Each scene is constructed artfully, each character described in detail. What I found most intriguing was the attachment between twins, the way in which their lives were intertwined, their pain of separation; I have never read anything like that before. The story has a gothic atmosphere and is openly influenced by Jane Eyre, but I also saw shades of Rebecca in the narrative. The atmosphere is foreboding, the Angelfield home and the characters send a chill up your spine. But this book is as much about books as it is about the mystery: the characters are surrounded by books; a library plays an integral role in the plot. I found some fantastic quotes regarding the art of writing and the experience of reading.
“All my life and all my experience, the events that have befallen me, the people I have known, all my memories, dreams, fantasies, everything I have ever read, all of that has been chucked onto the compost heap, where over time it has rotted down to a dark, rich, organic mulch…Every so often, I take an idea, plant it in the compost and wait. It feeds on that black stuff that used to be a life, takes its energy for its own. It germinates. Takes root. Produces shoots. And so on, and so forth, until one fine day, I have a story, a novel.”
“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 fibres of your clothes, and when you open the new book they are still with you.”
Most of the characters in the story are slightly unhinged, but their tale is anything but that. There is the clear hint of masochism, of subterfuge and of eerieness. The mystery and secrecy that the tale is steeped in gives it an aura of timelessness. And Margaret’s story is no less interesting, she goes through a sea of emotions when she listens to the twin story of attachment and separation, so mirroring her own. And the climax is like a thunderstorm, it crashes down on the reader, giving a totally new perspective to the story. I really can’t say more about the book without giving away the whole story, and I absolutely don’t want to do that, because digging out the hidden layers is an experience to enjoy.