Friday, 21 May 2010

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

GENRE: modern Gothic fiction/mystery

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 wilful 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.

I would label this novel as a gothic suspense novel. I love gothic suspense, and I absolutely loved The Thirteenth Tale.

I can hardly believe this is Setterfield’s first novel. The story is written with such emotion, lyricism, suspense, precision and perfection that I simply cannot believe it’s a debut novel. The suspense grows thicker with every new chapter, as does the story. This was a truly incredible read for me.

This novel features a unique and very memorable cast of characters. Margaret Lea, the biographer, is a young woman who loves to read. Her father owns a bookshop where she has spent many days of her life, and in the evening, she likes nothing best but to get comfortable in her bed and read the classics she knows by heart, like Jane Eyre, for example. She has a secret, or rather an issue that haunts her and that gradually becomes clear over the course of the novel. She’d written a biography before, which impressed Vida Winter, the author whose biography Margaret is required to write. Vida Winter hires Margaret because of that first biography.

Vida Winter is a story of her own. I won’t describe her much because I don’t want to reveal anything. She is a vault of mysteries and haunts from the past, and she is a very intriguing character. At first, she reminded me of J.D. Salinger because Miss Winter is also notorious for being secretive, so her decision to have a biography written about her is pretty surprising. Once Vida starts telling bits of her story, and Margaret uncovers those that Vida keeps silent about, the reader gets to know many shocking and intriguing things that put together the entire story of Vida Winter. Through her research, Margaret also finds herself and confronts her own issues that haunt her. In some ways, she resembles Vida Winter very much and although their personalities differ, they share something and there is an understanding between them.

Setterfield created amazing characters and such an amazing story. This book belongs to the list of the best books I have read, it definitely does. It’s also pretty evident that Setterfield is fond of the English classics herself, as the novel emanates the spirits of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Bleak House, in my opinion. The novel is very, very atmospheric and is a true gothic suspense story with twists and turns that delighted me.

You can never promise someone that they will like this or that book. But seriously, I ask you to give The Thirteenth Tale a try. I am tempted to re-read it in the near future.



Julie P said...

This book has been on my TBR shelf for a very long time. This is the first review I have seen of it and you did a great job! Thanks for sharing...

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Thanks! Reviewing is my pleasure.

Jen said...

I loved this book, too!! I was gripped and couldn't wait to see what was going to happen next! I'm glad you thoroughly enjoyed it!

Bookalicious Ramblings said...

I absolutely adored this one! Which reminds me, I must look up what the author is working on now - I hope she has a new book coming out soon!

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

There are rumours that she's working on something new. I really hope they're true!!!

Milka said...

This one was really good. It is about a year now that I read it, maybe I should get it from the library so I can re-read it. :D

BookQuoter said...

Awesome review!!!

La Coccinelle said...

I quite enjoyed this one, too. It was one of the first books I reviewed on my blog.