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The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel by Diane…

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Diane Setterfield

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13,027753175 (4)4 / 962
Title:The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel
Authors:Diane Setterfield
Info:Washington Square Press (2007), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (Author) (2006)

  1. 542
    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (norabelle414, ladybug74, Contusions, Voracious_Reader)
    norabelle414: Both gothic novels, with a big ol' creepy house, and theme of hidden family secrets
    Voracious_Reader: Both beautiful, almost Gothic tales told through the eyes of precocious unusual young women.
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    akblanchard: Isolated old ladies benefit by telling their stories to younger women.
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Showing 1-5 of 714 (next | show all)
I read The Thirteenth Tale such a long time ago, back when it was a brand new book. I loved it, I read it quickly, and when I had to take it back to the library I bought a copy to keep. I had to, and I sat it on a shelf to wait for the particular someday when it would be the right time to read it again to come along.

It was still there when a BBC film came along. I liked it, I thought that it was as good as it could be given the constrained running time, but it was just pulled fragments out of my memory, and I remembered that there was so much more.

And so it seemed that someday had come.

But I didn’t read, I listened instead, to a wonderful reading by Jenny Agutter. That made perfect sense, for a book that is about the magic of stories, storytelling, stories within stories, stories about stories … and it pulled so many more memories out of that particular corner of my mind where books live.

“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.”

‘The Thirteeneth Tale’ is a book that draws upon a wealth of others to make a richly embroidered story of its own.


• A large part of ‘Jane Eyre’
• A ghostly echo of ‘The Turn of the Screw’
• A solution of ‘The Lord of the Flies’
• A dash of ‘Wuthering Heights’
• A dusting of ‘If on a Winters Night a Traveller’
• More than a hint of ‘The Secret Garden’

… and you are on the way to understanding.

‘The Thirteenth Tale’ isn’t the perfect book. It’s a little uneven, its a little too implausible, and it is a little too full of influences for there to be much space left for anything truly original. But I loved it anyway.

After all, you don’t love people because they are perfect, but because they are perfect for you and what you are. You love them for what they are, because you recognise something in them, and simply because you do ….

And so it was for me and this book; I loved it for its style, for its ideas, for its influences, and, most of all, I loved it for its wonderful understanding of the importance of books and stories.

The story began with Margaret Lea, who worked in her father’s antiquarian bookshop and aspired to writing literary biography, receiving a hand-written letter from an England’s most famous novelist. She was dying, and she wanted Margaret to write her biography.

Vida Winter had always evaded questions about her past, by spinning a different story every time she was asked, and she had succeeded in keeping the secrets of her early life hidden. Margaret wondered why she wanted to talk, whether she would tell her the truth, and why she had chosen her when she could have had anyone she wanted.

She had never read any of Vida Winter’s books, but when she picked up her father’s rare copy of ‘Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation’ she was captivated. And she was curious. Why were there only twelve stories? Why were the final pages of the book blank? And where was the thirteenth tale?

Miss Winter told Margaret the thirteenth tale.

It was a story of a troubled family with dark secrets, of a crumbling manor house in the middle of an declining estate, of children growing up wild, and of the dreadful consequences of all of that.

It was a wonderful gothic tale, wonderfully imagined, beautifully described, and quite gloriously told.

Margaret was fascinated, and so was I. It was a wrench every time I was pulled out of that story and back into the room where the story was being told.

But the two contrasting narratives worked together very well, and letters and diaries added more layers to the story

Margaret questioned the truth of the story she was told. She searched for proof, and in doing so she had to come to terms with her own past, and tell her own story.

“Everybody has a story. It’s like families. You might not know who they are, might have lost them, but they exist all the same. You might drift apart or you might turn your back on them, but you can’t say you haven’t got them. Same goes for stories.

I was rather less taken with Margaret’s story than I was with Miss Winter’s, but I understood that it had to play out as it did.

I loved the themes that were threaded through the two stories – identity, loss, adoption, reconciliation – and most of all I loved the bookishness, and the understanding the importance of stories that underpinned everything.

I have no more words, just two more quotations to cherish:

“All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes — characters even — caught in the fibres of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.”

“My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with the truth itself. What succor, what consolation is there in the truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails? No. When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don’t expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.” ( )
1 vote BeyondEdenRock | May 11, 2016 |
As her debut novel,Diane Setterfield has narrated a saga of a family, which went to ruins after seeing its beautiful days.
Margaret, a biographer is happy in her own world of books and her fathers bookshop. She has a secret of a bad incident, that strained the relationship between herself and her mother.
Vida Winter, a famous writer too has her share of secrets in this world and chooses Margaret to be the one with whom she would like to share them.
This interaction between Margaret and Vida, brings out a never known story of Vida and her family.

I wont say that this book was written beautifully, but the words were like music. The word beautiful itself is not enough to describe the composition of words here. ( )
  PallaviSharma | May 9, 2016 |
One of my favorite books EVER! ( )
  idajo | May 8, 2016 |
Vida Winter, England's most famous and reclusive writer, selects Margaret Lea to come to her estate and pen her biography before she dies. The excessively bookish young woman only has a few obscure biographical pamphlets under her belt and has never even read Ms. Winter’s books. Margaret is intrigued by the secretive author and sees mirrored in her some of her own family secrets.

I was immediately sucked into Vida Winter’s tale; It has it all - secrets, insanity, incest, obsession, murder, ghosts… the carefully plotted and paced story never disappointed me, and for once, I did not see the plot twist at the end. It is very easy to make comparisons to novels like The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Possession by A.S. Byatt.
( )
  memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
Reviews have likened this book to Jane Eyre. I kind of get that. But I was reminded of fairy tales like Bluebeard and Beauty and the Beast and Alice in Wonderland. Well written and I rarely skipped forward in the plot (a bad habit of mine). ( )
  madamepince | Apr 17, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 714 (next | show all)
A family saga with Gothic overtones, dark secrets, lost twins, a tragic fire, a missing manuscript and over-obvious nods to Jane Eyre, Rebecca and The Woman in White, it reads like something a creative writing class might write as a committee, for the sole purpose of coming up with a novel that would suit a book group (and tellingly, there are "Reading Group Study Notes" at the back suggesting topics for discussion).
The Thirteenth Tale is not without fault. The gentle giant Aurelius is a stock character, and the ending is perhaps a little too concerned with tying up all loose ends. But it is a remarkable first novel, a book about the joy of books, a riveting multi-layered mystery that twists and turns, and weaves a quite magical spell for most of its length.
"The Thirteenth Tale" keeps us reading for its nimble cadences and atmospheric locales, as well as for its puzzles, the pieces of which, for the most part, fall into place just as we discover where the holes are. And yet, for all its successes -- and perhaps because of them -- on the whole the book feels unadventurous, content to rehash literary formulas rather than reimagine them.
A book that you wake in the middle of the night craving to get back to...Timeless, charming, a pure pleasure to read...The Thirteenth Tale is a book to savor a dozen times.
added by rainpebble | edit~The San Diego Union-Tribune

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Setterfield, DianeAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Amato, BiancaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hammer, HegeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Järnebrand, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moksunen, SalmeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tanner, JillNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won't be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story. -Vida Winter, Tales of Change and Desperation
In memory

Ivy Dora and Fred Harold Morris

Corina Ethel and Ambrose Charles Setterfield
First words
It was November.
Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes-characters even-caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.
My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie. - Vida Winter
Tell me the truth.
Of course I loved books more than people. Of course I valued Jane Eye over the anonymous stranger with his hand on the lever. Of course all of Shakespeare was worth more than a human life. Of course. Unlike Miss Winter, I had been ashamed to say so.
… ten years of marriage is usually enough to cure marital affection …
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Book description
My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth itself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.

All children mythologize their birth...

So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter's collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself — all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter's story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida's storytelling but remains suspicious of the author's sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.

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When her health begins failing, the mysterious author Vida Winter decides to let Margaret Lea, a biographer, write the truth about her life, but Margaret needs to verify the facts since Vida has a history of telling outlandish tales.

(summary from another edition)

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