Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale

September 21, 2011 Whitney Review 10 Comments

Book Review: The Thirteenth TaleThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Published by Atria on September 12, 2006
Genres: Mystery
Source: Bought

Biographer 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.

The Thirteenth Tale is part ghost story part fairy tale (Grimm Brother’s style).  Vida Winter, a famed author renown for her novel The Thirteenth Tale, with the thirteenth tale being omitted.  Vida, after numerous interviews has finally decided to unburden herself and write her memoirs with the help of a ghostwriter, Margaret Lea, a freelance amateur biographer who has one thing in common, they are both twins.

Miss Winter’s story is a bit strange and enthralling   centering on the Angelfield family, once wealthy and well-respected and now is slowly whirling into oblivion.  Curious things begin to happen at Angelfield all of which are explained away by a ghost, but outside the family unit it is called off to those strange twins Adeline and Emmeline.  These two assumptions wave the reader back and forth as to who is responsible for the mother being committed to an asylum, forcing her brother into confinement till his death, or the death of the loyal gardener, or the fire destroying Angelfield estate itself?

The Thirteenth Tale is a dark story with elements of Jane Eyre, Wuthering  Heights and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.  An orphaned and unwanted cousin, the slow demise and dwindling number of occupants in the moors, or an unknown lead character who’s last name bares a resemblance to a Mrs de Winter.  The Thirteenth Tale, is not just for the lover of mystery novels but also those passionate to classic literature that will have any reader mesmerized but the intricate, weaving story.


10 responses to “Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale

  1. Dude, loved this book. It's all Turn of the Screw/Rebecca/Victorian and therefore awesome. And the twists! Oh, the twists. I love twists.

  2. Alice– The Twists are awesome, and I can't believe I left out Turn of the Screw!

    Felicia– I think you'd really enjoy The Thirteenth Tale and I think the audio would be really fun to listen to. I couldn't put this down!

  3. I read this one years ago and I remember not being as wowed by it as everyone else was. At this point, I remember nothing of it, so maybe I should re read it to see if I appreciate it a little more.

  4. I have this book on my bookshelf waiting to be read. After reading your review I am going to try to read it soon. Wuthering Heights is one of my favorites so I am thinking I will like this one too. Thanks for the great review!

  5. I loved this book when I read it a few years back and just bought a used copy a couple weeks ago so I could reread it. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it so much!

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