The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Genre: Adult Fiction

Form: Book

Sometimes, when you open the door to the past, what you confront is your destiny.

Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author’s tale of gothic strangeness — featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.


The Thirteenth Tale surprised me. I had attempted to read this book once, almost a year ago. I probably got to the 2nd chapter and put the book down. There are so many words, so many descriptions and not enough action. I like dialogue and I like stuff to happen. It felt like story was just words for me. Despite that first start, I decided when an online book group wanted to do this book, that I would give it another shot. Once again I found myself slightly lost in it’s descriptions and felt like the book was moving slowly, since this was sort of like an assignment than reading for pleasure, I pressed on. I’m very glad that I did.

When I attempted to describe to my husband what this book was about I said something like, “Well, let’s put it this way; the author of this book is writing about a semi-biographer/bookstore clerk who is writing a biography of an author who is dictating the story I am reading.” So from the perspective of Diane Setterfield, that is some pretty complex writing to begin with. The Thirteenth Tale is filled with so many surprises, twists and turns that it definitely makes up for the slow pace of the book. In fact, I’m positive that the slow pace of the book was rather intentional. Diane does not reveal the next surprise until it is absolutely necessary, and every single time I caught myself thinking, “Man, didn’t see that one coming!”

My one and only complaint with the book happened at the very end. (I apologize in advance for this spoiler, but I cannot voice my complaint without the spoiler. If you haven’t read the book, you may want to stop now and come back after you read it and continue my review!) The appearance of Margaret’s sister cheapened her entire story for me. For the entire book Margaret is haunted by the twin sister who died at birth. She spends a lot of time mourning over the loss of this person she never actually met in real life. But it’s not exactly the person, but the connection of twins that has her feeling as though she is missing half of herself. There are many instances in which Margaret finds herself looking at her sister, almost communicating with her in away – and every time she is “seeing” her sister, it is actually a reflection of one kind or another of herself. So there is no actual ghost. So to write the entire story in that way, and then at the very end let there actually be a ghost really did nothing for met at all.

In reality, this part of the book was only a very small segement, a side story of the whole. The story of Adeline and Emmeline is the story that had me glued to this book. Okay, “glued” might actually be too strong of the word. Like I have mentioned, there are a lot of descriptions and long paragraphs. This made it very easy for me to put the book down and come back to it. That is not how I usually am, I usually cannot put the book down because I can’t wait to find out what happens next. But, even when I did put the book down, the story and the characters were playing their part in my head, keeping me wrapped up into it’s story.

I highly recommend this book!


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