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:
- You've always thought you're a twin.
- You feel your family would be the death of you.
- You love old English houses with dark secrets.