Bibliophile reviews The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Year published: 2006
Genre: Novel
Setting & time: Britain; modern timeless

Margaret Lea, a young woman who works in her father’s antiquarian bookshop and occasionally writes short biographical essays about dead authors, gets an unexpected invitation from bestselling author Vida Winter to write her biography. Winter is well known for never telling the truth about her past, so Margaret is a bit suspicious, but Winter seems sincere and provides enough evidence of her real identity to satisfy Margaret. What unfolds is an incredible story about a childhood lived in a house full of madness, framed by Margaret’s own narrative about herself and her attempts to verify that Vida has been telling her the truth.

It would perhaps be repetitive to say that this is a brilliant piece of storytelling, since it is what most reviewers say about it. But it is undeniably a brilliantly told story, or perhaps I should say collection of stories, because Vida tells Margaret about her childhood in a series of interconnected tales that are framed by Margaret’s own experiences while writing them down. The history of the Angelfield family unfolds slowly through Vida’s tales and Margaret’s research, too slowly for a thriller but just right for a slow-brewing mystery. I am not even going to hint at the nature of the mystery, because it is one that needs to be allowed to unfold as the story progresses.

As I already mentioned, the story is well told, meaning it is well written, interesting, gripping and beautifully plotted. It is full of unexpected twists and turns, and just when you think you know where the plot is going, the story twists around and goes off in an unexpected direction.

Last weekend I watched my mother get sucked into this story after reading a few pages, after which she spent every available moment reading it, which is a big compliment from her.

Rating: If you like well-told tales with a gothic flavour, read this. 4+ stars.


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