Release Date: January 2006
Publisher: Simon & Schuster | Atria
Pages: 406 pages
Source & Format: Gifted; Paperback
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise — she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.
Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.
As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story. Both women will have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets... and the ghosts that haunt them still.
Brief Thoughts on The Thirteenth Tale
Several years ago, I put The Thirteenth Tale on my Christmas wish list. I received it, and then I promptly put it on my bookcase. I'm not sure what happened, but somehow in the time between asking for it and owning it I just totally forgot why the book interested me in the first place. If you'd asked me what the book was about before I finally picked it up recently, I'm not sure I wouldn't have gotten any of the details correct.
I knew that The Thirteenth Tale was a Gothic mystery, and I think that's what initially attracted me to the book. Add in some rave reviews from friends and great rating on Goodreads, and I was intrigued. What finally convinced me to read it, however, was the reaction when the book was mentioned during the #IShall Twitter chat. I felt like I was so out of the loop!
I think my favorite thing about this book is the writing. Setterfield has a way with words, and she's written something that will certainly strike a chord with book lovers. I liked the Gothic elements of the story. There's something about a mystery with hints of the supernatural to keep you hooked! The writing communicates that dark, foreboding tone. I liked, too, that it feels as though you're being told a story. I could imagine this aging novelist retelling her life story!
But as much as I loved the writing, I found the story dragged at times. I wanted it to get to the point already! The story veered into melodrama, and I found Margaret to be quite annoying (as was her obsession with the person she lost - I won't say more for fear of spoilers). I think my biggest frustration, however, was the ending. It just seemed anticlimactic to me! While I enjoyed it overall, I never quite compared to how I felt about books like Jane Eyre or Rebecca. It's similar, but never totally delivered for me.
However, I'm glad I finally took this one off my shelf and spent some time with this tale! I absolutely think it's worth reading, and I can see why it's a favorite for so many. This was certainly a memorable read - though it was nothing like what I'd expected. I'm glad the hype led me to finally read it, even if it perhaps made my expectations a bit too high. But if you love Gothic reads, you've got to check this one out!
“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.”