Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Thirteenth Tale

Author: Diane Setterfield
Genre: Gothic, Mystery
Type: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Pages: 408
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: December 2011
First Line: "All children mythologize their birth."

Book Description from GoodReadsBiographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise — she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story.

Both women will have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets... and the ghosts that haunt them still.

My Review:  The Thirteenth Tale has been on my 'must read' list for quite some time but  I had put it off for two reasons.  First, the old adage 'too many books, too little time' came into play (as it so often does in my life).  Also, I'm always a little hesitant to read a book that has a lot of hype surrounding it since, more often than not, I find that the hype isn't as warranted as I was expecting.  Plus, after reading this author's most recent book "Bellman and Black" I wasn't eager to jump into another book of hers.  If it weren't for my friend Beth's insistence on how good The Thirteenth Tale was I probably wouldn't have picked it up for quite some time.  I'm glad Beth knows me so well.

This book is gothic, atmospheric, well written with a classical feel to it and well deserved of the hype surrounding it.  I was on the edge of my seat for most of it.  It grabbed me right off the bat, the tension admittedly waned a bit in the middle but then there were some twists and the book ended with loose ends being tied up and an unexpected (albeit tidy) ending.  Fans of Deanna Raybourn's gothic 'Lady Julia' series will enjoy this spooky and suspenseful mystery. 

As with most gothic novels, this wasn't a joyful walk in the park.  It had an eerie, depressing feel to it as the reader witnesses the extensive problems in the family as well as in the protagonist's own life.  Filled with flawed and deranged characters the book takes an intimate look into a truly dysfunctional family as well as a look into Margaret's own life. Personally, I could have done without Margaret's own personal issues being added into the fray because I found the Angelfield family's issues much more interesting. 

The characters were very unique, to say the least.  I adored Vida Winter.  She's a no nonsense old dame who does what she wants, when she wants.  Margaret, I was less smitten with.  I think that if the author had spent a little more time on Margaret's issues she could have come out of the shadows a bit more.  Two of the characters who I really wish could have narrated even a bit were Adeline and Emmeline when they were teenagers.  Getting their view of things would have upped the eerie factor considerably.

The classical feel that I got from this book stems from the numerous references that are made to specific classical literature.  Namely, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Turn of the Screw (all of which I have not yet read).  I know the gist of Jane Eyre but it wasn't enough for me to truly get the references.  For readers like me, who haven't read those classics the references fell flat. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book and it lived up to its hype.  The first third and the last third kept my attention but the middle got bogged down just a bit.  The overall feeling of the book was definitely gothic and yet I have no idea what time frame in which it occurred.  At first I assumed it was the early 1900's but as I kept reading I wasn't so sure.  It was a little disconcerting and odd that it wasn't mentioned. 

As with any suspenseful/mystery read I like to try to figure out the culprit and I love that some of my theories regarding Miss Winter's past were just plain wrong.  The gothic vibe was wonderfully eerie and I was quite engrossed in most of the book and unable to predict the twist at the end.


My Rating: 4/5 stars

Favourite Quotes:
"There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs, like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic."  ~ Margaret Lea

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