Title: The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: 2006
Acquired: Amazon Purchase
Date Finished: October 20, 2014
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 histories for 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.
Ok, I’m going to just jump right in…this book didn’t do it for me. There were parts of it that were extremely compelling, but overall, it was rather blah.
I loved parts of this tale. The beautiful and willful Isabelle, as well as the twisted and obsessive Charlie, grabbed my attention. I wanted more of their story. I wanted to know more than the incestuous rumors and mental illness. I understand this was not really their story, but they were fascinating. Adeline and Emmeline, the twins, were also interesting. The historical part of the book really kept me going. If it had not been for the back story of these characters, I would not have made it through this book.
I could not have cared less about Margaret Lea, the main character of the novel. She was ridiculous. Margaret discovered at a fairly early age that she was a conjoined twin and when they were separated, her twin died. This became an overarching theme throughout the book. Because Margaret pretty much lived her life around her father and her books, she obsessed about this lost twin. I really just wanted to tell her to go get a freaking life!! Maybe if she had a life, she wouldn’t sit around feeling sorry about a twin she didn’t even realize existed until she saw the death certificate. Ugh! I think Margaret was supposed to be a Jane Eyre type…staunch, no-nonsense, etc. But, Jane Eyre was passionate. You could tell her staunch exterior was there strictly to protect that passionate, loving girl inside. Margaret just came off as cold and pedantic.
The Thirteenth Tale was touted as a book for book lovers, and I will concede there were some lovely turns of phrase in this book. Diane Setterfield knows how to write. Some of Margaret’s musings about books really hit home with me. And, Vida Winter’s insight into people and their emotions was brilliant. The twisty little ending was underwhelming, but it wasn’t horrible.
I think my biggest problem was that I kept comparing it to Jane Eyre. I’m pretty sure that’s because this was Setterfield’s homage to gothic lit., but let me be clear…if you are expecting a Jane Eyre look-alike, you will be disappointed. It had a lot of the classic gothic elements, but it fell short of the ultimate goal.
I gave it 3 stars. Despite having a lot of good elements, it just didn’t pull together into a great book.