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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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13,529771157 (4)4 / 970
Title:The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel
Authors:Diane Setterfield
Info:Washington Square Press (2007), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library

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

Recently added bycommand3r, sdpac, LitaVore, Otlo, private library, jevins, l_affinity
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English (734)  Spanish (7)  Italian (4)  Swedish (4)  French (4)  Norwegian (3)  German (3)  Finnish (3)  Catalan (2)  Dutch (2)  All (1)  All (1)  All (768)
Showing 1-5 of 734 (next | show all)
There was an 'otherness' about this book that was hard to define, from its focus on an unconventional family in a grand old house which initially put me in mind of "Gormenghast", to its seeming determination to operate independently of time. This last point was the most striking thing for me, and since it cropped up in the reading group questions at the end I'm guessing it was deliberate. It takes place partly in the present and partly in the past, and gradually the two threads of the story come together for a dramatic conclusion. The narrator, bookworm and amateur biographer Margaret comes across as faintly fuddy-duddy, and nobody in the "present" thread of the story uses any of the trappings of modern life (mobile phones, internet etc). Likewise, as she goes about researching the life of cantankerous author Vida Winter, a sort of redheaded Barbara Cartland with a mysterious past, I worked out the numbers and estimated that some of the action should be taking place during the war, yet no mention is ever made of it, or indeed of any world events. It could be taking place at any time, and as such I guess it won't age, being as it were, pre-aged.

It was a bold task to undertake, being the voice of a highly successful novelist, who is effectively turning her own life story into a compelling tale. But compelling it was. You perhaps need to give it a few chapters, but it does take a hold. The detective work and the occasional creepiness of it are pulled off brilliantly and I galloped through the last hundred pages, desperate to know what happened. A breathtakingly accomplished first novel. ( )
  jayne_charles | Apr 18, 2017 |
Gothic, Twins, Mystery, Writing, Books, Library ( )
  dtempleton | Apr 17, 2017 |
'All children mythologise 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 a wonderful tale about family, loyalty, twins and the secrets that must be kept.... That is until the truth must be set free along with the ghosts of the past.

Margaret is summoned by the world famous author V. Winter, who would like her autobiography written by someone who will understand her story.

Do you believe in ghosts?

#dianesetterfield #the thirteenthtale @bondstreetbooks ( )
  Carolibrarian | Apr 16, 2017 |
This was another library-sale buy, a hardcover book for 25¢, which you don't find often any more. I don't remember where I'd first heard of it or where it had been recommended, and perhaps I was thinking of another book entirely. If it was on a list, it was either for send-ups of excellent Gothic fiction, or books that indulge in talking about books. Over a year later, now that it's September and I decided the season for spooky reads had begun, I cracked it open a few days ago, and once I started I really didn't want to stop.

It's easy to keep on reading just a few more pages. It's so atmospheric, and you're sure the next chapter will tell you enough that you'll be able to work out the puzzles underneath. The writings of Vida Winter are, it seems, modelled after Isak Dinesen or Angela Carter, darkly glimmering and enchanting. Like Dinesen, Winter is a Scheherazade spinning a story to keep off death. This self-conscious hyper-literary strain originally made me doubtful of the book, actually, but in reality I appreciated how unabashedly the characters loved their particular books and loved stories.

This is much more a November read than a start-of-September one, when the days are still too hot and summery and undergrads just arrived to swarm my once-peaceful campus with their pep. It would especially suit November for me because two years ago I spent late October and a good part of November in a dilapidated ruin of a once fine country home. I think without that experience I'd have a hard time believing the state of disrepair humans can allow their surrounds to fall into, but the owner of that home had many demons of his own, and at times I would come downstairs or return after only a few days away and find myself shocked with how quickly neglect crept over everything there. It was constantly eerie, how much this book recalled not just my own reading and expectations therewith, but visions from my own life when I would not have characterised them quite so at the time. ( )
  likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |
The thirteenth tale

You know a story's good when you start again at the beginning as soon as you've read the ending.

I discovered Diane Setterfield's 'The Thirteenth Tale' at my local Lounge bar book swap one afternoon and was immediately hooked. Why? Look:

Opening quotation:

'All children mythologise 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.'

After that seriously engaging opening I was delighted to realise that this is a story in which books and reading and storytelling and truth are inextricably bound up in the narrative.

This sustained me as the narrative-within-a-narrative moved on to focus on a pair of almost mythically awful characters: violent Charlie and manipulative Isabelle.

What's it about?

Storytelling. Twins. Loneliness.

Extremely successful author Vida Winter is dying. Having spent many years spinning various tales to the hacks sent to get her life story, Vida has finally sent for a biographer to tell the truth about her early life.

Margaret Lea is astounded to be summoned and dubious about Miss Winter's ability to tell the truth, but the secrets of her own birth cause her to become spellbound by the older woman's story, and she finds herself irresistibly drawn to Angelfield House, formerly home to the March family, and Miss Winter.

What secrets are Angelfield and Miss Winter hiding? Margaret is ready to find out.

What's it like?

Quietly compelling. Atmospheric. Occasionally confusing.

Setterfield perfectly conveys Margaret's complete absorption in Miss Winter's story of the very odd twins, Emmeline and Adeline, and encourages our own absorption.

Throughout I wondered: how on earth does the uncontrollable Adeline become the girl seen in the mist? Certain incidents confuse; they make no sense in the context of our knowledge, and it is not until Miss Winter finally reveals the complete truth about the fire at Angelfield that the reader can comprehend a story which initially seems insoluble without recourse to ghosts.

There's a real Victorian / Edwardian feel about this story, though no dates are specified. Governesses, a full staff dwindling to almost nothing, an unworldly heroine and extensive grounds in a decaying house all evoke a time long past. I'm sure this helps to explain why I enjoyed this so much!

Characters are presented in ways that fully reveal them to readers, while they remain oblivious to their true selves. I loved the descriptions of the interactions between the deeply patronising Doctor Maudsley and Hester, the scientifically-minded governess:

'She was quite right, of course. He had no idea what book she had got it out of, but she must have read it closely, for she elaborated on the idea very sensibly.'

And this:

'She had an amusing habit of expressing views of her own with the same measured command as when she was explaining a theory by some authority she had read.'

Setterfield perfectly conveys the inbuilt arrogance and superiority of a medical man dealing with a female he perceives as a subordinate...and the governess's tactful and self-effacing manipulation of this "superior" male!

Typical quotes:

'The separation of twins is no ordinary separation. Imagine surviving an earthquake. When you come to, you find the world unrecognisable. The horizon is in a different place. The sun has changed colour. Nothing remains of the terrain you know. As for you, you are alive. But it's not the same as living.'

'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.'

Final thoughts

This is a cleverly constructed tale about the power of story telling and the mystical nature of twinship. I enjoyed reading it, though I was increasingly dubious about the pending solution of the various mystifying elements: I don't believe in ghosts and am not really a fan of ghost stories, so I was worried about the direction this was taking. Suffice it to say, I needn't have been. The final solution makes perfect sense - and reminds us once again that Hester is not infallible!

Full of twists, turns, shocks and, erm, illegitimate children, this is compelling storytelling, including what is, quite possibly, the best doctor diagnosis and prescription ever.

Recommended. ( )
  brokenangelkisses | Mar 2, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 734 (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.

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