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The Thirteenth Tale: A Novelby Diane Setterfield
Synopses & Reviews
When Margaret Lea opened the door to the past, what she confronted was her destiny.
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.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"If you are a Reader with a capital R, as is the narrator of Diane Setterfield's debut novel, the pages of 'The Thirteenth Tale' will remind you of what you know and love: the world of books. What you are less likely to recall, however, is the world outside them, the world we inhabit when we set our books aside. Setterfield's erudite novel amounts to a sort of brainteaser, a literary riddle to occupy... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the mind rather than a new vision to inform it. The novel's references are to Bronte and Dickens, but in many ways 'The Thirteenth Tale' has more in common with the work of Brown — Dan Brown. Short chapters that leave us dangling off cliffs; historic locales protecting secrets in the walls (or attics, libraries and gardens); a bookish protagonist with a knack for cracking codes; a roster of eccentric players appearing and disappearing as the plot requires — these are the devices that buoy 'The Da Vinci Code,' and they serve again to carry us through Setterfield's Gothic mystery. Set in present-day England, the novel opens as the narrator, Margaret Lea, returns one night to her apartment above her father's antiquarian bookshop. On the steps she finds a letter from one of England's most celebrated living novelists, Vida Winter. The letter takes Margaret by surprise, but not so much as one might expect. Margaret, a self-made scholar whose academy is her father's inventory and clientele, has recently published a biography of a little-known pair of literary brothers. Miss Winter, having read her work, proposes to offer Margaret a subject of far greater renown: herself. The problem, though, is that Miss Winter has written more than 50 novels in the course of her long career, with millions upon millions of copies sold, yet Margaret has not read a single one. What's worse, Miss Winter is famously deceitful when it comes to the details of her background, having offered countless contradictory fables to reporters through the years. Margaret considers declining the invitation, but after she borrows one of Miss Winter's books from her father's collection — called 'Thirteen Tales,' but containing only 12 — she can't resist. Not surprisingly, there is more to the connection between biographer and subject than meets the eye. As we learn early on, Margaret was born a conjoined twin but lost her sister in infancy when surgeons separated the two girls (a fact her parents hid from her for many years). Miss Winter, too, understands the bond of twins, the trials of separation and the weight of family secrets, though the details of her tale prove more complex. Only with Margaret's help will she undertake to tell it, and they must work quickly, for the elder woman is gravely ill. For weeks, the two sit together as the enigmatic Miss Winter weaves her final yarn, recounting the story of her childhood home, the now-decrepit Angelfield (which Margaret visits more than once) and the ill-fated characters who have lived and died there. Part family drama, part detective story, part bildungsroman, part romance, part ghost story, part novel of manners, part epistolary, Miss Winter's life story is all the books that Margaret loves rolled into one, though to what end is hard to say. Margaret eventually finds herself exhausted by her charge — listening, transcribing, sneaking, spying. She is unaccustomed to the sorts of dramas that play out in the flesh, rather than on the page. She longs for 'a story where everything had been planned well in advance, where the confusion of the middle was invented only for my enjoyment, and where I could measure how far away the solution was by feeling the thickness of pages still to come.' For better or worse, 'The Thirteenth Tale' fits this description perfectly. Setterfield, a former professor of 20th-century French literature, is a deft stylist and talented technician. Both her love for literature and the depth of her learning enliven her debut novel. 'The Thirteenth Tale' keeps us reading for its nimble cadences and atmospheric locales, as well as for its puzzles, the pieces of which, for the most part, fall into place just as we discover where the holes are. And yet, for all its successes — and perhaps because of them — on the whole the book feels unadventurous, content to rehash literary formulas rather than reimagine them." Reviewed by Margaux Wexberg Sanchez, who is a free-lance writer in Irvine, Calif., Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Setterfield's first novel is equally suited to a rainy afternoon on the couch or a summer day on the beach." Library Journal
"[A] contemporary gothic tale whose excesses and occasional implausibility...can be forgiven for the thrill of the storytelling." Kirkus Reviews
"The Thirteenth Tale is a book that you wake in the middle of the night craving to get back to....Like a childhood favorite, it is timeless, charming, pure pleasure to read." San Diego Union-Tribune
"Setterfield is neither a Bronte nor a DuMaurier, and her adventure creaks at times....But this debut novel gets a lot of that rich bookishness right, heavy on the gothic detail and romantic suspense." Boston Globe
"Those who buy and read this complex, compelling and, in the end, deeply moving novel are unlikely to feel they've been shortchanged." Philadelphia Inquirer
"The Thirteenth Tale explicitly sets out to capitalize on our longing for a good old-fashioned read but fails to deliver on precisely that." Los Angeles Times
"This is a book-lover's novel, with rich characters, fascinating plot twists and plenty of secluded moments infused with the soothing smell of cracking leather and old paper....[A] smart, thoughtful look at truth and deception." Rocky Mountain News
"A wholly original work told in the vein of all the best gothic classics. Lovers of books about book lovers will be enthralled." Booklist
Amateur biographer Margaret Lea receives a letter from reclusive author Vida Winter, summoning her to write Vida's life story. As Margaret pieces together Vida's story on her own, what she discovers is a chilling and transforming experience.
About the Author
Diane Setterfield is a former academic, specializing in twentieth-century French literature. She lives in Yorkshire, England.
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