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The Thirteenth Tale Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 12, 2006
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Settle down to enjoy a rousing good ghost story with Diane Setterfield's debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Setterfield has rejuvenated the genre with this closely plotted, clever foray into a world of secrets, confused identities, lies, and half-truths. She never cheats by pulling a rabbit out of a hat; this atmospheric story hangs together perfectly.
There are two heroines here: Vida Winter, a famous author, whose life story is coming to an end, and Margaret Lea, a young, unworldly, bookish girl who is a bookseller in her father's shop. Vida has been confounding her biographers and fans for years by giving everybody a different version of her life, each time swearing it's the truth. Because of a biography that Margaret has written about brothers, Vida chooses Margaret to tell her story, all of it, for the first time. At their initial meeting, the conversation begins:
"You have given nineteen different versions of your life story to journalists in the last two years alone."
She [Vida] shrugged. "It's my profession. I'm a storyteller."
"I am a biographer, I work with facts."
The game is afoot and Margaret must spend some time sorting out whether or not Vida is actually ready to tell the whole truth. There is more here of Margaret discovering than of Vida cooperating wholeheartedly, but that is part of Vida's plan. The transformative power of truth informs the lives of both women by story's end, and The Thirteenth Tale is finally and convincingly told. --Valerie Ryan
From Publishers Weekly
Former academic Setterfield pays tribute in her debut to Brontë and du Maurier heroines: a plain girl gets wrapped up in a dark, haunted ruin of a house, which guards family secrets that are not hers and that she must discover at her peril. Margaret Lea, a London bookseller's daughter, has written an obscure biography that suggests deep understanding of siblings. She is contacted by renowned aging author Vida Winter, who finally wishes to tell her own, long-hidden, life story. Margaret travels to Yorkshire, where she interviews the dying writer, walks the remains of her estate at Angelfield and tries to verify the old woman's tale of a governess, a ghost and more than one abandoned baby. With the aid of colorful Aurelius Love, Margaret puzzles out generations of Angelfield: destructive Uncle Charlie; his elusive sister, Isabelle; their unhappy parents; Isabelle's twin daughters, Adeline and Emmeline; and the children's caretakers. Contending with ghosts and with a (mostly) scary bunch of living people, Setterfield's sensible heroine is, like Jane Eyre, full of repressed feeling—and is unprepared for both heartache and romance. And like Jane, she's a real reader and makes a terrific narrator. That's where the comparisons end, but Setterfield, who lives in Yorkshire, offers graceful storytelling that has its own pleasures. (Sept.)
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If there's not incest, there's a crazy wife in the attic. If there's not a crazy wife in the attic, there's a murderous illegitimate son who's not right in the head. Or conjoined twins. Or a dying gypsy's curse. Or something equally unsettling.
So even if you guess the HEP Big Secret wrong, whatever it actually is isn't going to make a dent. B/c you've already imaged the worst. B/c gothic.
ALSO . . . I don't like it.
If I lived in the time of traveling freak shows, I would not attend. Not my bag.
You: So why did you read it?
Me: B/c didn't realize it was gothic until I'd already started it.
You: Why didn't you quit?
Me: SCHADENFREUDE . #thestruggleisreal
Plus, the concept is friggin amazing: England's most beloved author, who's written 56 novels in 56 years, has zealously guarded her privacy. She made her pen name her legal name, and has threatened any would-be biographers with lawsuits until they backed down.
Interviewing her has become a kind of rite of passage for journalists, b/c she gives a different version of her life story to every, single one of them. <------how cool is that?
But now she's dying, so she contacts our MC (Margaret), an amateur biographer who's grown up in her father's rare bookshop (a bibliophile's DREAM), and employs Margaret to write her life story before she leaves this mortal coil.
After that is when it gets weird. And gross. And creepy. And messed-the-eff-up.
Man alive, these people are CRAZY.
Including Margaret, who has an unhealthy fixation on her dead-shortly-after-birth twin sister.
Genre preferences aside, there's no denying that this is a beautifully written book:
There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.
It's also mindbendingly clever.
The line between mental illness and the supernatural is so thin, so frail, so indecipherable, that even now, days later, I can't stop thinking about it--were the ghosts real, or did they only exist in her mind?
I. DON'T. KNOW. *EDVARD MUNCH FACE*
THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield is not a book you read then forget. It stays with you, taking up brain space, whispering incessantly, like the five notes of a song you can't place, but can't escape. It's beautiful and terrible. And even if you avoid gothic novels like I do, this one . . . This one deserves to be made an exception. Highly recommended (with trepidation).
Diane Setterfield has done an amazing job of weaving several tales of love, heartache, loneliness and dedication together in a way I have never seen before. I am now a fan of hers and will be looking for more like this one.
This author, Diane Setterfield, has written in a style that will not only grab your attention, it will keep you reading until you cannot read any longer - as soon as I got up in the morning, I had to continue.
I smiled, held my breath, became puzzled, thought I'd figured out where the story was heading, and received a shock when the curveball came - over and over again.
Enjoy! I will definitely recommend to each person who asks me if I have read anything good lately!