Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Year: 2006
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 follows Margaret Lea, daughter of a bookshop owner and a biographer herself. Books had been a part of her life since day one. It is said that she prefer books to people. One day, she received a letter from Vida Winter, a famous author with several bestseller books. Ms. Winter asked Margaret to write her biography. Margaret was going to refuse it, until she read Ms. Winter’s debut novel called Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She was intrigued when she realized that there’s only twelve stories in the book. Margaret then accepted the offer with one condition, that Ms. Winter had to tell the truth.
I started reading this book without knowing other than what the goodreads’ summary says. I had no expectation. I didn’t even sure what kind of story this book is, horror? Mystery? Romance? Supernatural? I didn’t know. My initial reaction was I thought that The Thirteenth Tale was going to be interesting. It has good opening and intriguing premise. The main character, Margaret, is an avid reader. Something that I can relate to. So I was excited. But then come the Ms. Winter part. I was losing my interest. Ms. Winter narration is so long and I found it boring. Especially because not much happening for a while. Until the mystery and the twist coming out.
I believe The Thirteenth Tale is what you would call a gothic novel. The book is mainly set in The Angelfield’s estate and Ms. Winter’s estate. Both of which are described as castle-like, a mansion. Interestingly, both places reflect its inhabitants. Ms. Winter’s house is reclusive. It even has a labyrinth garden as if to keep visitors out. Reflecting Ms. Winter’s tendency to live in isolation. Meanwhile, it is pointed out several times in the book that The Angelfield’s house doesn’t face the right way. As if it doesn’t welcome visitors, but repels them which then we learn in the book that The Angelfield didn’t do well with strangers.
The Thirteenth Tale is also full of mystery and suspense. Before telling Margaret her story, Ms. Winter offered Margaret a ghost story which I thought wasn’t significant because it’s dismissed rather easily by Margaret. But then as the story progressed, I kind of understand what Ms. Winter meant earlier. In this book, you’d see recurring scene in which the character saw mysterious figure lurking around the house or hiding behind the curtain. These events adding the suspense of the story. Moreover, Margaret kept having haunting vision of someone important from her past which adds the gloomy and sadness undertone to the story.
Another interesting thing is the time setting. It’s never clearly stated. Sure, there are hints here and there. But not much to give us at least the exact year. The characters in this book like to reference classic novels such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which means that it’s set after 1886 (Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde publication year). There’s a mention of telephone, but no computer at all. Margaret likes to write using paper and pencil. I’m guessing before the era of personal computer so before 1970s? I don’t know. But this adds more of the classic gothic effect to the story.
As for the characters, I love Margaret. No question because of her bookish lifestyle. I couldn’t say much about Ms. Winter because I don’t want to spoil anything. But in the book, she’s supposed to tell Margaret the story of her childhood up until she became the Vida Winter. There’s an interesting little detail in her narration that foreshadows the mystery of Vida Winter’s real identity. Even Margaret was aware of that. I found this fascinating.
The Thirteenth Tale is a story within a story. It’s intricate and beautifully written. It’s a book written for readers. It’s obvious how book is one of the elements that keep on appearing throughout The Thirteenth Tale. Margaret Lea’s jobs are selling books and writing biography books; Ms. Winter Vida’s job is writing books. Library is important to the book as most of the story takes place there. In conclusion, if you are a reader and you love books or more specific you like reading gothic novel then The Thirteenth Tale is perfect for you.