Books About People Who Love Books… Friday: The Thirteenth Tale

Posted 1 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Books About People Who Love Books… Friday: The Thirteenth TaleThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2007
Pages: 499

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.

This isn’t a book I would have picked up on my own. I read it for a book club.

The writing came off as a bit pretentious to me – the constant allusions to Jane Eyre and other classics came across as the writer comparing her work to those and I found it a little irritating. 

The story itself is good and I don’t mean to say that the writing is bad. It’s a well structured frame story and I think it’s a great book club selection because there is clearly lots of symbolism, foreshadowing, other literary devices, and parallels between the frame and the story inside. 

This quote beautifully echoes why I prefer contemporary literature with open endings. It is not something I could have put into words this eloquently.

“He has described in precise, measured words the beautiful desolation he feels at the close of novels where the message is that there is no end to human suffering, only endurance. He has spoken of endings that are muted, but which echo longer in the memory than louder, more explosive denouements.”

For a one sentence baby/kinda-spoiler click here.

All the same, it’s worth a try. 


April @ The Steadfast Reader


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