REVIEW The Thirteenth Tale: Diane Setterfield


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.

If you like this post, you can receive free updates by Subscribing to my RSS Feed or by signing up for Email Updates

14 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    I need to read this again! I got it for Christmas a few years ago, and read it on a wintry day in the flat we'd let in Kensington - perfect atmosphere for this book. My most vivid memory from it is the scene where they are talking about whether people or books are more valuable, whether the heroine would save Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, etc. at the expense of human lives. I don't know why, but that's always stuck with me.

  2. Zia Says:

    I read this and then turned around a couple months later and listened to the audiobook. It's such a fantastic book and it holds a permanent place on my bookshelves.

  3. What an amazing cover, I'd pick this book up for that reason alone. A great review, you could tell you had really enjoyed it. I love it when you describe the characters as being unhinged - brilliant.

  4. Rachel Says:

    Your review is great! I agree with it totally - I loved The Thirteenth Tale.

  5. She Says:

    What a good book! I'm glad there's one more lover of it out there :D

  6. Jeane Says:

    I really loved this book too. Suspense and mystery are not usually my forte, but this one was so good!

  7. Shona Says:

    This was one of my best reads for 2009, though I had some doubts when I started it , it all vanished as I got engrossed in the tale. Loved it ..Have u read Her Fearful Symmetry?

  8. I have this on my shelf and have not read it yet. I am reading the comments and thinking it is time to get it off the shelf.

  9. brizmus Says:

    this sounds eery and intense and amazing! Thanks for such a convincing review.

  10. jenclair Says:

    This was a marvelous book! I loved it!

  11. I so loved this book. I didn't want the story to end and when it did I had to reflect the story for a few days before I could make myself get into another. Very good review as well!

  12. Amy Says:

    I've heard good things about this book. Maybe time to add it to the TBR.

  13. Aarti Says:

    I like how you say Setterfield's writing is like reading a classic- that's so true! I liked this book a lot. I should reread it, though, as I don't remember much at all about it! It scares me how quickly I forget novel plots!

  14. bermudaonion Says:

    A friend of mine lent me this months ago and I haven't read it yet.

Related Posts with Thumbnails