Date Published: September 12, 2006
Source: Owned Copy
Goodreads Synopsis: All children mythologize their birth…So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter’s collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.
The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself — all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter’s story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.
As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.
Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida’s storytelling but remains suspicious of the author’s sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.
The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.
My View: I read this book for the first time in 2011 and fell in love with it. It was marked as one of my all-time favorites and awarded 5 stars. And then I remember picking it up in a book fair because favorites need to be bought and re-read, right? Even gifted to friends. So after doing all that, this paperback kept staring at me from my bookshelf waiting to be picked up. I almost did, several times but nope.
Fast forward 9 years later and 2 weeks of home quarantine helped me get my reading goals in line (the only ones that made the cut, haha) and here I was pouring over this book. Scared as hell of whether or not it will keep up to my old expectations (one of the reasons I hate re-reading favorites. Poor Anna Karenina bit the dust not too long ago) but went with it nevertheless.
This line from the synopsis, “The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling” sums it well. The book had me drooling over all the book references, the gigantic libraries, the first editions, and the love of reading in the main characters. Oh my, oh my. My imagination was running overtime, hiding in the lanes and alleys between ceiling-high bookshelves, propping into a corner, resting my back on a shelf and turning the pages, lost in the story until the light streaming through the high, wide windows dissipates and it’s time for dinner.
Setterfield takes you on a journey through the two protagonists’ lives, weaving in and out, drawing similarities. You can’t help but feel for them. Wanting to know the truth, to scratch the surface and delve deep into when it all began.
The characters are painfully sketched, each one embedded in your memory as a long lost friend that’s come back from oblivion. And you hold them close wanting to hear their life stories.
The only thing that disappointed me was the mystery. Something that appealed to me 9 years ago didn’t do so to my more mature brain which felt, “not this, anything but this”. But there it was staring me in the face and I wrapped up the book with a sigh. Hated putting the book off my favorite shelf. Still good but didn’t make the cut. It always surprises me how what we loved once, we don’t years down the line. We might appreciate it but the love’s lost somewhere in the years that went by.
Would I recommend this book? Why not? Go read this one, for the love of reading, if nothing else. It’s a tad bit long and a bit dry towards the end.
I didn’t know there was a movie! Got to watch that now.
Have you read the book? What did you think of it?
4/5 stars – I really liked it.
Born in Englefield, Berkshire in 1964, Diane spent most of her childhood in the nearby village of Theale. After schooldays at Theale Green, Diane studied French Literature at the University of Bristol. Her PhD was on autobiographical structures in André Gide’s early fiction. She taught English at the Institut Universitaire de Technologie and the Ecole nationale supérieure de Chimie, both in Mulhouse, France, and later lectured in French at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. She left academia in the late 1990s to pursue writing.
The Thirteenth Tale was acquired by Heyday Films and adapted for television by the award-winning playwright and scriptwriter, Christopher Hampton. Starring Vanessa Redgrave and Olivia Colman, it was filmed in 2013 in North Yorkshire for BBC2. The TV rights to Once Upon a River have even sold to Kudos (Broadchurch, Spooks, Grantchester).
Diane Setterfield has been published in over forty countries.
Diane lives in Oxford, in the UK. When not writing she reads widely, and when not actually reading she is usually talking or thinking about reading. She is, she says, ‘a reader first, a writer second.’