The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield brings together a bookworm spinster and a famous novelist to write the novelist’s memoir before she dies. Vida Winter wrote a best seller a year for over 20 years, but has never let the truth about her personal history ever be written. Margaret Lea works and lives in her father’s book shop, not a popular spot but well regarded in the right book circles. Vida Winter hires Margaret to write her story but on her own terms and her own timeline, which is partially determined by her ailing health.

The story that Vida tells is filled with a gothic haunted house, twins left to raise themselves, a dysfunctional mother, deceased father, recluse uncle, and a pair of aging staffers that are trying their best to maintain a sane household filled with insanity. Before accepting the assignment, Margaret asks for provable facts that she can research since Vida Winter is a known storyteller who has told multiple versions of her ‘life story’ over the years. In order to help prove these facts, Margaret travels to Angelfield, where Vida Winter was born and lived for the first part of her life. The whole of her life according to her, since after the fire, her life was in essence over and she began writing her stories. Both woman’s lives are consumed with books and stories and there’s a nice bibliophile aspect of reading this story. Both for the lovers of old books and the stories within those books. Between the visuals we gain from Vida’s story and Margaret’s recent descriptions of the dilapated house, Setterfield brings the reader home to Angelfield. Running between the garden topiary’s or hiding behind the curtains, the reader knows Angelfield and is drawn to its morbid story.

This was a great mystery about what can go wrong in a sheltered home with absentee parents. I loved the past story as well as the relationship between the subject and biographer. Setterfield captured two different time periods and environments and brought the reader inside these closeted worlds.

Read July 2014.

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