Title: The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
# of Pages: 416
Amazon review available here.
"There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic."
From Publishers Weekly
Former academic Setterfield pays tribute in her debut to Brontë and du Maurier heroines: a plain girl gets wrapped up in a dark, haunted ruin of a house, which guards family secrets that are not hers and that she must discover at her peril. Margaret Lea, a London bookseller's daughter, has written an obscure biography that suggests deep understanding of siblings. She is contacted by renowned aging author Vida Winter, who finally wishes to tell her own, long-hidden, life story. Margaret travels to Yorkshire, where she interviews the dying writer, walks the remains of her estate at Angelfield and tries to verify the old woman's tale of a governess, a ghost and more than one abandoned baby. With the aid of colorful Aurelius Love, Margaret puzzles out generations of Angelfield: destructive Uncle Charlie; his elusive sister, Isabelle; their unhappy parents; Isabelle's twin daughters, Adeline and Emmeline; and the children's caretakers. Contending with ghosts and with a (mostly) scary bunch of living people, Setterfield's sensible heroine is, like Jane Eyre, full of repressed feeling—and is unprepared for both heartache and romance. And like Jane, she's a real reader and makes a terrific narrator. That's where the comparisons end, but Setterfield, who lives in Yorkshire, offers graceful storytelling that has its own pleasures.
This book has received SO much hype in the book world that I sometimes can't believe I waited so long to read it! But it came with me on my ill-fated trip to St. Louis and comforted me on a much delayed flight and then on a cold night at home. I stayed up much later than I should have to finish it. Like most books that receive so much advance hype, The Thirteenth Tale seems to have polarized its readers.
I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing is beautiful, and the author (and both narrators) so clearly and unabashedly adore reading that there are many "A-ha!" moments one gets while reading the book that make you think, "Yes, I know that feeling! I'm a reader, too!" The plot itself is as complicated as any true Gothic novel from the Regency or Victorian periods. It certainly does pay tribute to Jane Eyre and to Henry James and to Wilkie Collins. Here is a book written for booklovers and wordlovers and I was wrapped up in the world so completely that I didn't want to leave it. Other readers have pointed out (with justification) that there were some loose ends, some deus ex machina, some inconsistencies. Maybe there were- I didn't care. I was too wrapped up in the story, the characters, the language. It was wonderful fun to read, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes books that center around books.