Monday, October 25, 2021

The Thirteenth Tale: Diane Setterfield

Vida Winter is an author who has had much success in her writing. She has also always concealed the truth about her past–her birth, her childhood, and how she escaped her past. At the time this novel begins, she is old and facing death, and she has decided to tell the true story of her origins. She picks Margaret Lea to write the story. Margaret has written short biographies of a few authors; Vida has researched her and thinks that they could work well together. 

Margaret lives with her mother and father and works in her father's antiquarian book store in London. She enjoys what she does and has not looked for any life outside of the book store and her family, even though she and her mother have a strained relationship. 


Vida Winter writes to Margaret requesting that she write her biography. Margaret visits Vida at her home in Yorkshire. The project is intriguing, but Margaret does not know how much to trust to Vida's veracity. She knows that Vida has invented many stories about her life. Margaret also has mysteries in her life, mysteries she would like to solve. Eventually she is convinced to write Vida's biography and to live with her while they are working on it.

There are two narratives in The Thirteenth Tale. Vida narrates the story of her family and her childhood during sessions with Margaret. Margaret narrates her story of working with Vida to write the biography and her separate research on Vida's past and her home, Angelfield, plus her research into the mysteries in her own life. 


My thoughts:

I have long had the idea that I don't like gothic novels. Maybe my tastes have changed or broadened, but lately I have read several books with gothic elements and enjoyed them a lot. The Thirteenth Tale was a page turner, although parts of it moved slowly. It took me a while to read although it was only a bit over 400 pages long. I loved the journey that Margaret takes to uncover the mysteries in her life and in Vida's, and I loved the ending. It was a very emotional reading experience for me. And the writing was very good; it was a joy to read.

I have read that this book borrows heavily from several classic books (such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Rebecca). Any of those that I read were read long ago, so I did not recognize this. And I am not sure why this would be a bad thing. Obviously, with one main character being a writer and the other working in a book store (and very serious about her reading time), this is a book that will appeal to book lovers, with lots of references to books and authors. 


I was not sure which genre this book fits in. I think it was marketed as a mystery and many readers at Goodreads categorize it that way. There are mysterious elements and there is a crime, but there is no investigation of a crime. There are elements of romance, but that element doesn't overwhelm the story. Just enough romance for me. 


This was another good read for R.I.P. XVI (Readers Imbibing Peril).





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Publisher:  Atria Books, 2006.
Length:    406 pages
Format:    Hardcover
Setting:    UK, London, Yorkshire
Genre:     Gothic Mystery
Source:    On my TBR for 15 years.



20 comments:

Cath said...

I read this some years ago now and enjoyed it a lot. Quite gothicky and isn't there a supernatural element? I can't remember so it could be time for a reread. I quite liked her Once Upon a River too - it got very mixed reviews but I loved the upper Thames setting.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I also read it when it came out and thought it was very good. Glad you liked it.

Margot Kinberg said...

It's interesting, isn't it, Tracy, how the things we think we won't like turn out to be appealing. Sometimes it is, as you say, that tastes change as we go through life. Other times it might just be a matter of the right book at the right time, if that makes sense. This one does sound appealing, though, and it sounds like an interesting look at two different periods in time, too. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Rick Robinson said...

Happy birthday to me. Off to the vet for cat check-ups and nail trim. Glad to see you have rain, even if it does delay that darn driveway. Very windy and rainy here again today. Don't think this is a book for me, but then lately I'm not sure what is. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

TracyK said...

Happy birthday, Rick. I saw your comment at Patti's last post. I hope your cats are easier to take to the vet than mine is.

It was good to have rain, but it was brief and they are working on the driveway today. So maybe sometime next week we can get the car back in the garage.

I am not having trouble finding books I like, but I am finding that I enjoy books that I had avoided before. I still like shorter books though. In November I am going to read mostly novellas and see how that goes.

TracyK said...

Cath, it is very gothicky. I was reminded of how much when I read some other reviews that pointed them out. There was a supernatural element but very slight in my opinion and it worked well for me.

I remember that you read Once Upon a River but I had not yet checked to see if you liked it. I am glad that you did because I do want to read more by this author.

I just finished reading Fete Fatale by Robert Barnard. After you mentioned that book on my post about A Little Local Murder, I found that I had gotten a lovely paperback copy of Fete Fatale at the book sale. I loved it. Similar to A Little Local Murder, but not too similar to be good. I loved it but I don't know how well I can review it.

TracyK said...

Patti, it is sort of galling to let a book sit on my shelves for so long and then like it so much when I read it. But, probably I enjoyed it more now than I would have 10 years ago. I will try another book by the author when I get a copy.

Sam Sattler said...

I read this one back in 2006, and while I don't remember a whole lot of the details anymore, I do remember that I loved a lot about the book, but not everything. Seems as if it dragged at times, but overall, I think it's pretty good.

TracyK said...

Margot, My tastes in reading have certainly been changing recently. Not that I will ever give up my mystery / crime fiction preference, but I am more open to try other types of books. I will have to explore more books of the gothic type.

Rick Robinson said...

When (if) I get through the line of library books, I’m aiming at reading short stories for a month or so. We’ll see. I got graphic novel and non-fiction for b’day. Oh, speaking of short stories, you’ll want to see my Wed post, going up tonight.

TracyK said...

Sam, I pretty much loved everything about this book (except that it took a long time to read, but that wasn't due to any problems in the book). But I did see a number of reviews that pointed out issues with the book.

TracyK said...

Rick, I will be looking for your Wed post. I usually do see those before I go to bed, when you put them up on Tuesday night.

I want to read more short stories too; we will see if reading novellas this month gives me more time for that. And I want to read more graphic novels, I have been letting some of them sit for a while.

Mary R. said...

I read her Once Upon a River and really liked it. I will need to add this one to my TBR list.

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours said...

So glad you enjoyed it! I finally listened to it, it was so good, with two amazing narrators. I definitely want to read more by this author

TracyK said...

Emma, it was your comments at your blog that pushed me to try this after so long. Thanks very much for bringing it back to my attention.

TracyK said...

Mary, I looked up some descriptions of Once Upon a River and it sounds appealing and certainly worth a try, since I liked the author's writing in this one.

col2910 said...

Tracy, glad you enjoyed it, but not one for me thanks.

TracyK said...

I am not sure why I even bought this book years ago, Col, but I am glad I finally gave it a try. I agree, not your type of book at all.

Lark said...

I enjoyed this one, too.

TracyK said...

Lark, I am so glad I finally read it. I don't know if I will reread it but I want to try something else by this author.