Thursday, December 14, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Vida Winter, one of Britain’s best-loved novelists, is known for her reluctance to share the truth of her life story. Having spent the past six decades creating outlandish stories, Vida is facing death and wishes to leave the truth as her legacy.

Margaret Lea is surprised to receive the request from Miss Winter, an author she’s never spoken to, asking her to act as biographer. Margaret has published a few articles on lesser known author but is unable to fathom why an author of such reknown would choose her. In an effort to learn more about her potential subject, Margaret picks up her father’s rare copy of Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation and is mesmerized by the stories. As she nears the end of the volume she is confronted by one of Britain’s biggest literary mysteries: where is the thirteenth tale? Margaret agrees to meet with Miss Winter and is quickly engaged in the unfolding story of her complex life and the destroyed estate of Angelfield.

Diane Setterfield’s debut novel The Thirteenth Tale rocketed up the best-seller lists soon after its release mid-September and many skeptics wondered how much of this success was due to aggressive online marketing efforts rather than its merit. This reviewer is pleased to report that, in her opinion, Setterfield’s success is due to a well-crafted plot, engaging characters and frequent nods to gothic novelists of the past.

The Thirteenth Tale centres around a story-within-a-story, as Vida recounts the family history leading up to her birth and beyond. All the elements of a gothic novel are found here; a mouldering old house, mental illness, twins, neglectful parents, a domineering governess, isolation and ghosts. Margaret, an exceptional narrator, is drawn into the action as she tries to substantiate Vida’s story, while battling the specters of her own past.

Initially Margaret is reluctant to be drawn in by Vida, maintaining a professional distance from her subject. Her research, and the parallels she sees between Vida’s and her own story, eliminate her defenses and, like a du Maurier or Brontë heroine, Margaret becomes consumed by the story around her.

Setterfield uses her descriptions of place to increase the readers’ understanding of her characters. Miss Winter has spent so many years suffocating the truth that “..the other rooms were thick with the corpses of suffocated words: here in the library you could breathe.” The library, Margaret’s domain, is the place of truth, therefore a place within which light and air preside.

Essentially, The Thirteenth Tale is about the battle between truth and fiction, and the consequences of each. Fiction is easier, as Miss Winter points out: “What succour, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story?” As readers soon learn, there is a price for each and no simple line can be drawn in the sand.


ISBN10: 038566284X
ISBN13: 9780385662840

Hardcover
416 Pages
Publisher: Bond Street Books
Publication Date: September 12, 2006


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4 comments:

Rashenbo said...

Sounds very interesting! I saw you on Susan's board and thought I'd pop over and say hi! :)

Janelle Martin said...

Thanks for the visit and welcome! Make yourself at home and stay a while.

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

I enjoyed this book and was glad it lived up to the hype.

Heather
www.thelibraryladder.blogspot.com

Carl V. said...

Definetely one of my favorite books of the year. I was absorbed into that world from the very first page and really got lost in the story. It was a wonderful experience and I am so glad I didn't wait to read it as it was so great.