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The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

>> Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Published 2006
Genre: Ghost story/ Gothic Suspense
Pages: 406

From the inside cover flap:

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 historiesfor 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.

This book was one of the hot books last fall. I waited to read it for a couple of reasons. At first, it was because I wanted to wait till it wasn’t the book everyone seemed to be reading at the same time, and later because I wanted to save it for this year’s RIP challenge. I’m glad I waited, because it was a perfect RIP book.

It’s very gothic, with a little bit of Jane Eyre, a teensy tad of Flowers in the Attic, and bits and pieces from other gothic and ghost stories. Primarily it’s a book about stories – some true, some not. As a reader I loved all the little comments about books and reading. I liked the way the intricately woven mystery built throughout the book. The twists and turns and hints keep coming. It definitely held my interest and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m not sure it’ll make my top 5 of the year, but maybe my top 10.

Here are just a few quotes that I tagged along the way:

I never read without making sure I am in a secure position. I have been like this ever since the age of seven when, sitting on a high wall and reading The Water Babies, I was so seduced by the descriptions of underwater life that I unconsciously relaxed my muscles. Instead of being held buoyant by the water that so vividly surrounded me in my mind, I plummeted to the ground and knocked myself out. I can still feel the scar under my fringe now. Reading can be dangerous.
People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them.
Whether by luck or accident I cannot say, but I found my way to the library a full twenty minutes earlier than I had been commanded to attend. It was not a problem. What better place to kill time than a library? And for me, what better way to get to know someone than through her choice and treatment of books?
Human lives are not pieces of string that can be separated out from a knot of others and laid out straight. Families are webs. Impossible to touch one part of it without setting the rest vibrating. Impossible to understand one part without having a sense of the whole.
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?


Carey 10/04/2007 8:10 AM  

I read this book a couple of months agoand loved it. The writing and the story kept me entranced and had me sitting next to Margaret as she went through this journey. thanks for the review and quotes, it reminds me of the joy I had reading it.

Have a great Day!

Heather,  10/04/2007 9:10 AM  

Great quotes! I really enjoyed this book when I read it.

____Maggie 10/04/2007 10:00 AM  

Wish I had thought of your comparisons before writing my article, "gothic, with a little bit of Jane Eyre, a teensy tad of Flowers in the Attic..." Great! :)

Les 10/04/2007 6:50 PM  

Great passages! I think I highlighted most of what you included here. I enjoyed the book for the most part (especially the last quarter, which was quite suspenseful), but didn't love it the way a lot of folks did last year. You were wise to hold off.

SuziQoregon 10/04/2007 7:54 PM  

Carey: I'm not sure I loved it, but I did enjoy it. There were so many great quotes all the way through it,.

Heather: Thanks!

Maggie: hee hee - I couldn't resist commenting on the 'Flowers in the Attic'y feel I had there for a while.

Les: I think I saw most of the quotes I posted on other folks blogs here or there, but there are just so many to choose from I think you and I ended up with similar feelings about this one.

Bookfool 10/05/2007 6:58 AM  

I'm usually the lone detractor on this book; I really didn't like it. Every time I see a review, I wonder if it was just bad timing. But, since I passed it on, I guess I'll never know. I think you were wise to wait till the fervor died down.

Framed 10/05/2007 7:10 PM  

I think I will wait one more year to read this book. It does sound good though. I loved your quotes.

J. Kaye 10/06/2007 9:25 AM  

I listened to this book on audio and just loved it!

alisonwonderland 10/06/2007 9:48 PM  

i finished this book just today. i really didn't know what to expect - except that people kept raving about it - but i found that it was a very engaging book. i really did enjoy it.

Jaimie 10/08/2007 9:18 AM  

I have got to get this one! Thanks for the review!

Booklogged 10/08/2007 6:56 PM  

Yes, a bit of Flowers in the Attic. I enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale, too. Looking forward to her next.

SuziQoregon 10/08/2007 7:03 PM  

Bookfool: timing can really affect me. I've had books that others have raved about and I've just thought "meh", but I'd probably think differently if I'd read them at another time or place.

Framed: I'd have to day that I enjoyed it. It didn't overwhelm me like some have, but I enjoyed it.

J.Kaye: I can imagine that with a good reader it would make a great audiobook. Do you know who read the version you listened to?

Alison: I think I went into it not expecting to love it because although I'd heard lots of rave reviews, I'd also read several that felt not so in love with it.

Jaimie: Like I keep saying -it is an enjoyable story.

Booklogged: I'll definitely be on the lookout for her next one.

cj 10/09/2007 12:33 AM  

Great review and I love the quotes. This one is on the way to me from Amazon and I can't wait to get it.


Lynne 10/09/2007 4:15 PM  

I'm with Bookfool on this one - I didn't like it. Might have been timing - who knows?

SuziQoregon 10/09/2007 7:43 PM  

CJ: hope you like it!

Lynne: and that's why it's a great thing that we're not all required to like the same books ;-)

Stephanie 10/16/2007 7:20 AM  

I haven't read this one yet. Truthfully, I'm not sure why I waited. I'm really looking forward to it!!

Great review!

SuziQoregon 10/18/2007 7:52 AM  

Stephanie: hope you enjoy it.

student,  9/30/2008 4:29 PM  

I had to read this book for school. I didn't love the book, but, it was pretty interesting. It was different than most books. Great quotes!

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment. I read and respond them here although not always right away. If you would prefer an email response let me know.

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