The Thirteenth Tale
By Diane Setterfield
It engrosses you in a world you might have left long ago – a world of ghosts, secrets, stormy nights, enchanted families, and of course surprise endings. A classic fairytale of sorts.
A few pages down and I couldn’t tell fact from the fiction. The words engulf you into a whole new world – you feel the love, the romance, the fear, the thrill, the suspense, and the satisfaction of being a part of this wonderful experience.
The Thirteenth Tale is essentially a story about stories.
Margaret Lea is a bookish, single woman, still living with her parents in London. She manages and runs her father’s bookstore and carries a physical as well as an emotional scar. She is also a serious biographer, penning the lives of the deserving but long-lost individuals.
She is surprised to receive a letter from a popular author, Vida Winter, to write her biography. Vida is known for her amazing story-telling skills. No one knows about her real life. Nor her real name. Standing at the brink of old age, Vida wants her story to be known – and not buried with her body.
Vida is known to have authored a volume titled “Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation,” but strangely it has only twelve tales. The thirteenth one is missing. And there revolves a lot of controversy and talk about it among the folks. Margaret is intrigued by the book and she agrees to interview Vida. Vida ends up offering to tell her real, unabridged story to Margaret. But Margaret isn’t sure she can believe this master story-teller since she is known to have eluded reporters in the past with stories so fictional that they couldn’t possibly be true. As Margaret is about to walk out Vida utters a magic word (“twin”), which makes Margaret stop and remember the loss of her twin siste.
The two ladies strike up a deal: Vida will tell her true story, her own way; and Margaret will not interrupt at all.
Then begins Vida’s story – the tale of a pair of twins born in a rich, flamboyant dysfunctional family. The twins, Emmeline and Adeline Angelfield; the gothic ancestors; a grand house with deep secrets known to none; rich with ghosts and chills that make the entire experience (for Margaret) more than just a story. Amidst the backdrop of the Yorkshire countryside, Margaret has her share of experience overcoming her haunting past.
I shall refrain from telling you any further about the story and Margaret’s adventure throughout, lest I ruin the reading spree that you all should be on by now.
I took “my own sweet time” to read this book – savoring each word like a well-prepared delicacy. I was hooked on to each word. I did not want the book to end. Somehow, at the back of my mind, I was looking forward to more pages of mystery (added magically) as I reached the last page.
The rich descriptions and perfect pace takes you back in time when Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were “the thing” to read. No I’m not saying the characters or the settings are lifted or derived – but sparklingly original and imaginative.
It is intriguing, daring, and scary, and thrilling to the extent that days after you’ve finished the book – it is sure to stay in your mind and your heart.
The writing, I feel, is flawless. Absolutely. The plot and the characters are unique and interesting. It is a much powerful book than you can imagine. Pick up a copy for yourself to know what I’m saying.