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The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel by Diane…

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

by Diane Setterfield

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11,965None214 (4.01)4 / 870
Title:The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel
Authors:Diane Setterfield
Info:Atria (2006), Hardcover
Collections:Your library, Favorites
Tags:Literary Fiction, MUST READ, Gothic Literature

Work details

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (2006)

2007 (83) 2008 (72) audiobook (56) authors (67) book club (81) books (184) books about books (159) British (108) contemporary fiction (53) England (275) family (97) fiction (1,490) ghosts (109) gothic (420) historical fiction (95) Jane Eyre (42) literature (62) mystery (772) novel (159) own (81) read (192) read in 2007 (54) read in 2008 (44) secrets (61) sisters (107) suspense (97) to-read (258) twins (436) unread (73) writers (77)
  1. 521
    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.
  2. 460
    Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (ladybug74)
  3. 361
    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (brightbel, coffee.is.yum, caflores)
  4. 211
    The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (391)
  5. 170
    The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (starfishian)
  6. 141
    The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (library_gal, Becchanalia)
    Becchanalia: Pretty much the same plot, secrets, family ties and tragedy set in the ancestral home.
  7. 144
    The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (rstaedter)
  8. 101
    The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (avisannschild)
  9. 92
    Atonement by Ian McEwan (julie_e_meyer)
  10. 159
    The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (starfishian, rmjp518, kethonna, elizabeth.a.coates)
    elizabeth.a.coates: Both centre around books/literature, both are eloquently written, both have an element of mystery
  11. 104
    Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (sruszala, lahochstetler)
    lahochstetler: Gothic tales of devoted twin sisters, love, and death.
  12. 61
    The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (lahni)
  13. 50
    Florence and Giles by John Harding (shelfoflisa)
  14. 40
    Affinity by Sarah Waters (Citizenjoyce)
    Citizenjoyce: The ambiance is the same. Both stories draw the reader in with promises of deeper mysteries to solve.
  15. 40
    The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (Becchanalia)
    Becchanalia: More creepy siblings and a misguided governess
  16. 62
    The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  17. 30
    The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff (amyblue, kethonna)
  18. 63
    The Woman in White, Vol. 1 by Wilkie Collins (caflores)
  19. 20
    The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh (ForeignCircus)
  20. 20
    Phantom by Susan Kay (Bookmarque)

(see all 32 recommendations)


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English (624)  Spanish (6)  French (4)  Italian (4)  Swedish (3)  Norwegian (3)  Finnish (3)  German (3)  Dutch (2)  Catalan (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  All languages (656)
Showing 1-5 of 624 (next | show all)
This is probably my favourite read of the year to date: a near-but-not-quite modern day gothic novel. Margaret, a quiet antiquarian bookseller and amateur biographer, is surprised and intrigued by an invitation to write the biography of England's 'best-loved' novelist - a woman famous for lying about herself in every interview she's ever given. As Margaret is drawn into her unbelievable story, she must unpick the threads to find the truth. Expect twins, ghosts, governesses, madness, crumbling estates, illegitimate children, incest and a sweeping love affair with books. Utterly satisfying and beautifully written. ( )
  imyril | Mar 24, 2014 |
Prob a 2.5 is more accurate. I enjoyed the beginning, but then... I found myself skimming, and I know that is when my attention is gone. ( )
  | Mar 19, 2014 | edit |
3.5, maybe even 3.75. This isn't a book I would have picked up on my own.

The writing came off as a bit pretentious to me - the constant allusions to 'Jane Eyre' and other classics came across as the writer comparing her work to those, a little bit irritating.

The story itself is good and I don't mean to say that the writing is bad. It's a well structured frame story and I think it's a great book club selection because there is clearly lots of symbolism, foreshadowing, other literary devices, and parallels between the frame and the story inside. So hopefully there will be lots to talk about at this burgeoning book club that I've just joined.

This quote beautifully echoes why I prefer contemporary literature with open endings. It is not something I could have put into words this eloquently.

"He has described in precise, measured words the beautiful desolation he feels at the close of novels where the message is that there is no end to human suffering, only endurance. He has spoken of endings that are muted, but which echo longer in the memory than louder, more explosive denouements."

Setterfield, Diane (2006-09-12). The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel (Kindle Locations 472-474). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.


This novel has a nice neat ending and does not suggest the eternal suffering of man.

All the same, it's worth a try.

( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
This was an incredible read. The writing was absolutely beautiful, the story was dark, creepy, and so compelling. The lyrical writing drew me in and the haunting tale kept me hooked. ( )
  a.happy.booker | Mar 14, 2014 |
This was an AMAZING book! I got it as a birthday gift yesterday. I started reading it around noon today and finished at 6:30pm with only brief breaks for food. The language is wonderfully poetic and yet utterly compelling and readable. (Some prose is in love with itself, but Dane Setterfield knows how to indulge in the natural beauty of language without overdoing it.) It contains a wonderful mystery that is slowly unraveled by a young woman name Margaret, an amateur biographer who works in her father's antiquarian bookstore. Her life gets complicated when she is asked by an eminent but deeply private author to record a final story: the author Vida Winter's biography. Margaret is a bibliophile with a special love for "Jane Austen," which also happens to be one of my favorite books, and the passages were she describes reading books is so spot on...I couldn't put it better myself. If you haven't read "The Thirteenth Tale," put it on your list. You won't regret it.

And now I'm off to find more books by Diane Setterfield! ( )
  Starsister12 | Feb 24, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 624 (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
Diane Setterfieldprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Amato, BiancaReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hammer, HegeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Järnebrand, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moksunen, SalmeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tanner, JillReadersecondary 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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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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