Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

A compelling emotional mystery in the timeless vein of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, about family secrets and the magic of books and storytelling.

Margaret Lea works in her father's antiquarian bookshop where her fascination for the biographies of the long-dead has led her to write them herself. She gets a letter from one of the most famous authors of the day, the mysterious Vida Winter, whose popularity as a writer has been in no way diminished by her reclusiveness. Until now, Vida has toyed with journalists who interview her, creating outlandish life histories for herself - all of them invention. Now she is old and ailing, and at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. Her letter to Margaret is a summons.

Somewhat anxiously, the equally reclusive Margaret travels to Yorkshire to meet her subject - and Vida starts to recount her tale. It is one of gothic strangeness featuring the March family; the fascinating, devious and wilful Isabelle and the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline.

Margaret is captivated by the power of Vida's storytelling. But as a biographer she deals in fact not fiction, and she doesn't entirely trust Vida's account. She goes to check up on the family, visiting their old home and piecing together their story in her own way. What she discovers on her journey to the truth is for Margaret a chilling and transforming experience.

I first saw a post about this book over on Heather's Blog, and as soon as I saw it, I added it to my list and requested it from the library!

There is a lot of hype around this book around the place, with even Barnes and Noble making it their first ever "Barnes and Noble Recommends" book. The danger of books with this much hype is that the book will not live up to it - fortunately this one does, both for me and just about everyone else who has read it. I think I am yet to see a review from someone saying that they really didn't like it.

The overriding story is a simple one - a reclusive author decides to finally tell the truth about her life. In the past when Vida Winter had been interviewed she had given a variety of different answers, but now it is time to reveal her story. It is the undercurrents lying beneath this simple story that make this book compelling - the mysterious events at Angelfield, the strange and compelling relationship between the twins Emmaline and Adeline, the life and in some cases deaths of those who are charged with taking care of them, and the relationship of all of these people and events to the life of Vida Winter.

Also threading through the story is Margaret's search for the truth about her own birth and relationships with her parents, especially her mother who has been withdrawn for as long as she can remember.

The author does an amazing job at creating an atmosphere where trying to find the truth is bound to uncover many surprises and maybe some unwanted secrets.

Populated with a cast of lonely characters searching for their own truths, this book is an amazing read, and well worth picking up!

Rating 5/5

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

Mog's Book Blog
A Striped Armchair
Chris @ Book-a-rama
Maw Books
Some Reads
Melody's Reading Corner
Things Mean a Lot
Bold. Blue. Adventure
Books and Other Thoughts


  1. Great review, Marg! I'm putting it on my wish list... I just love gothics!

  2. YAY! So glad you liked it! All this talk about it makes me want to read it again.

    Great review :)

  3. It's well worth getting hold of Rosario!!

    Heather, I can see myself reading this again in a few months, just to see what I might have missed the first time through!

  4. See, told you that you were going to like it. :)

  5. I've seen this book just about everywhere and you make it sound really good so I'll definitely give it a look. Thanks! :-)

  6. hmmm 5/5 you caught my interest there! Will add to my TBR list...

  7. I'm glad you liked this book. I ordered it and should get it in the mail soon. :P



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