The Thirteenth Tale

Diane Setterfield

Published September 2006

“I shall start at the beginning. Though of course, the beginning is never where you think it is.”

The Thirteenth Tale has been sitting on my bookshelf for entirely too long.  It was one of those books that kept popping up whenever I would peruse any second-hand bookstore.  I was of the strange opinion that if they had five or more copies of any book in stock, then it must not be good enough to encourage people to keep it.  The story was always there, when I least expected it, I would turn around, and there it was.  It was following me, whispering for me to bring it home, but for some reason I never bought it.  I think the cover may have turned me off initially (yes, I am a judger of covers, *GASP*)

Until finally, I did.  I brought that book home and read the shit out of it.

Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author’s tale of gothic strangeness — featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess,a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

From the minute I opened the book, I was entranced.  The words take on a life form of their own, reaching out of their pages to drag me in.  I was entranced.  This book flows like a song, it fits together perfectly, with its beginning, its middle, and finally its end. Vida Winter stresses the order of the story and for great reason, for this is masterfully told.

“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.”

This is one of those stories that I don’t want to elaborate on the plot, because the story is a journey.  There were several times during the book where I had an “oh….OH!” moment, the surprises just kept coming.  I would flip back through the previous pages, looking for the clues that I had missed, which of course, were there.  We see and read what we want to, and Diane Setterfield takes us on a trip down a very twisty, convoluted memory lane, where nothing is really what it seems.

“All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. 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 fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.”

thirteenth taleIf you haven’t read this book yet, please do.  Do yourself a big ol favor, and pick up this book.  I would be willing to bet you could get a copy for cheap at a second-hand bookstore.  Probably not this beautiful edition, but that doesn’t matter, this story is amazing.  5 stars hands down.

“What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney?”


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