Vida Winter, one of
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
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.
Publisher: Bond Street Books
Publication Date: September 12, 2006
tags: books book reviews Diane Setterfield mystery