Friday, December 25, 2009

A tale of twins, books, and secrets

I've always seen Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale in bookstores for the longest time, and it's only this week that I bought myself a copy. I love a good mystery, and this book seems to have intriguing elements in its narrative -- a reclusive author, a biographer who loves to read and runs a bookshop with her father, dark family secrets, and a gothic storyline. Plus, if I've been seeing this novel for several years now, I feel that it's worth its hype.

In The Thirteenth Tale, we get to meet aging author Vida Winter, a renowned personality whose biographical details have eluded the world throughout her career. Vida hires Margaret Lea, an amateur biographer who focuses on lesser-known 19th century literary personalities. Margaret only reads novels published in the 1800s (Jane Eyre, The Woman in White, Middlemarch, etc.) and runs a small bookshop with her father. Margaret has never read any of Vida's novels, but when she receives an invitation from Vida herself to write her life story, she's left with no choice but to read her novels. Much to her surprise, she is drawn to Vida's fiction. One particular piece of fiction that fascinates Margaret is a collection of stories titled The Thirteenth Tale.

Ms. Winter has been known to fabricate fictional pieces of her life story to different journalists. Knowing this, Margaret becomes guarded and skeptical of all Vida tells her. Eventually, the reclusive novelist reveals the truth about her life, providing deep and dark insights into her childhood and her mysterious family.

Setterfield's narrative is atmospheric, verging on the gothic. The usual technique of including a story within a story is seen here, but with moderate success: Vida Winter's story is definitely more captivating than Margaret's. Sometimes, it feels that Margaret's own discovery about her family leads to nowhere and doesn't tie up seamlessly with what we find out about Vida. Setterfield could have made the two stories more parallel, more equal in weight. As it is, the novel could stand alone with Vida Winter's biography.

I really enjoyed reading about the mystery elements of The Thirteenth Tale. Somehow, it reminded me of a recent favorite read -- The Woman in White. Like Collins's novel, The Thirteenth Tale has ghosts and mistaken identities woven into its story. Setterfield, in the last few chapters of the novel, lets you in on Vida's secrets, and some of these revelations truly come from left field.

All in all, The Thirteenth Tale is hugely enjoyable. Vida Winter's story, in particular, are a joy to read. The Thirteenth Tale would appeal to anyone who loves a good mystery involving sinister family members, Victorian novels, old English houses and bookstores, and ghosts and other creepy narratives.

Read this book if:
  1. You've always thought you're a twin.
  2. You feel your family would be the death of you.
  3. You love old English houses with dark secrets.
And, by the way, a Merry Christmas to you, dear reader! I hope you have a fun-filled and meaningful Christmas!

25 comments:

jspeyton said...

I think I remember reading somewhere that Settenfield purposefully included elements from "Woman in White." It's funny because I first heard of "Woman in White" when I read "The Thirteenth Tale." I've been a big fan of Wilkie Collins ever since.

Glad you enjoyed this!


www.whosabiblioaddict.com

Peter S. said...

Hi, jspeyton! Yes, I enjoyed this a lot, but I never knew that bit about The Woman in White. Thanks for mentioning it!

Ryan G said...

I enjoyed this book when it first came out but haven't picked it up since. I may have to give this a reread soon.

Merry Christmas to you as well!

Michelle said...

I loved this book. I thought it was really enjoyable as well. :)

Peter S. said...

@Ryan G: Merry Christmas!

@Michelle: Yes, I think it has something for everybody.

Alexia561 said...

Enjoyed your review! I picked this book up awhile ago, but never got around to reading it. May have to move it closer to the top of my TBR stacks!

Merry Christmas Peter!

Peter S. said...

Hi, Alexia! Merry Christmas! Glad you enjoyed my review!

Mrs. B. said...

Hi Peter, Merry Christmas to you too!

Actually, I didn't like the 13th Tale. I thought it started out well until it started to spiral into a copy of Flowers in the Attic. But I do love Wilkie Collins and other gothic novels.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Mrs. B! Actually, when you think about it, The Thirteenth Tale does pale in comparison to The Woman and White and the novels of du Maurier.

Diane said...

Glad u enjoyed this one; me too. (I've never seen that cover though--love it!)

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Is that a new cover for this book? I have this one on my shelf (I think...) but the cover is different.

And now because of #2. You feel your family would be the death of you...
I know I have to get to reading this! :)

Merry Christmas!

Peter S. said...

Hi, Sheila! Merry Christmas!

Yes, it's a new cover for the book.

SariJ said...

This was my favorite book of the year when it came out. I loved your review and agree with everything you said. What made the book stand out for me was the writing style. It was very Gothic and very engaging. I do hope Diane writes another, as she may turn out to be a great modern Gothic writer.

By the way, Merry Christmas to all!

Peter S. said...

Hi, SariJ! Merry Christmas to you too!

savidgereads said...

Hey Peter, a good book I have to agree. I dont know why but just at the end it went from great to good and I cant remember why now.

Hope you had a fabulous Christmas!

Peter S. said...

Hi, Simon! I had a fabulous Christmas! I hope you had a joyful one as well!

Patrick said...

Just dropping by to say Merry Christmas Peter! And an advanced Happy New Year too! Hoping to catch up with my book blogging buddies this 2010. ^_^

fantaghiro23 said...

Unfortunately, I was disappointed with The Thirteenth Tale. I liked how it started, but then I thought the story wasn't fully developed at some points. Or maybe I just expected too much given the hype. Good prose, though. Oh, and Merry Christmas to you, too.:)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Patrick and Honey! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

Melange said...

What a wonderful blog you have here. Found you via The View From Sari's World. I'm on my way to add you to my blog roll, and I'm now a follower.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Melange! I'll add your blog as well!

Jaime said...

Excellent review Peter. This one has been sitting on my bookcase for awhile. I really ought to read it sometime soon! LOL

Merry Christmas a few days late :)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Jaime! A Belated Merry Christmas to you too!

mel u said...

I liked this book a lot-what I liked best was reading about the role various books played in the lives of the characters-I was motivated by The Thirteenth Tale to set Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heightd as 2010 rereads-great review, Peter.

stacybuckeye said...

Hope you had a great Christmas! I liked this one when I read it last year, but I'm not sure I like this cover. Oh well :)