Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

Also reviewed by Kari, Kim, and Mindy

Summary: Sometimes, when you open the door to the past, what you confront is your destiny.

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.

My Review: Margaret Lea is daughter is of a knowledgeable bookstore owner, and thus loves books. In fact she loves and relates to books better than she does people. This could have something to do with a secret about her birth which she stumbled upon as a young girl. A secret that makes her feel so different and alone. Yet Margaret has found some happiness in the books she reads, the relationship she has with her father as well as in the amateur biographies she has recently begun to write. Though not amateur, this is Margaret's story, told through her.


However it is not Margaret's story alone. It is also the story that famous author Vida Winter wishes to tell before her death, the true story of her past. Margaret has never read any of Winter's contemporary fiction novels, as she is more interested in classics and nonfiction. Therefore, Margaret is stunned when Vida Winter writes to ask her to do her biography. Winters, however, has does her research and finds Margaret to be the obvious choice as her storyteller as their pasts share a common thread. Vida is dying and realizes that it is time to confront some ghosts in her past. She senses that Margaret has some hidden away secrets as well. And so the tale begins.


Diane Setterfield weaves the story of Vida Winter's past seamlessly into the story of Margaret Lea's present. Both stories are utterly captivating. The scenery is so vivid and the characters so alive that the reader feels like part of the story. The plot is unique and fascinating, taking the reader through many twists and turns. This is truly a book one can get lost in. The story comes full circle and the ending is complete, yet I was disappointed to see the story come to an end. I so enjoyed my time spent inside these pages.


This is a novel obviously written by a true book lover. Much of the action takes place either in past or present libraries. And the author refers to many classic books, especially Jane Eyre. Throughout the book the author uses many reading metaphors to relate to everyday life. At one point Margaret is having trouble concentrating and the author relates this to being unable to close your mind on your previous book. She state that this is as leaving a 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." This is the exact sensation I have after closing the cover on this novel.

My Rating: 5 Stars...I can't wait to read it again.

If I had to sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A book every true book lover must read, a story painful to put down and one you never wish to end.

4 comments:

MindySue said...

Margaret Lea "relates to books better than she relates to people"....this book is about ME! I wonder if I'll get some kind of royalty check.

This book sounds delicious! I can't wait to read it.

Irish said...

I just finished the book and I loved it .... I loved your review !!

Anne Bennion said...

Totally loved this book. Your review was perfect!

Mell said...

Great book, great review!

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