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The Thirteenth Tale (2006)

by Diane Setterfield

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
15,237850246 (4)4 / 1030
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.
Recently added byprivate library, HeaterJo, stetskod, doverpl, mercysrain, zombiehero, libraryofthedead, Arina40
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Showing 1-5 of 811 (next | show all)
So I read "The Thirteenth Tale" eons ago. This book came out in 2006 and I recall starting it around Christmas time that same year. I fell in love with the book. Too bad I could not get into Setterfield's follow-up "Bellman & Black". I can't even tell you much about that second book except I fell asleep reading it and just took it back to the library the next day. This was back before I posted reviews about books I DNFed.

Back to "The Thirteenth Tale" though. This book has everything. You got a Gothic style mystery with all kinds of twists and turns about a family called Angelfield. For me the best parts of the book are the ones in which Vida Winter tells her story. Margaret who has been brought to write a biographer of Vida Winter I found to not be interesting in the least little bit. She has her own story, but it's honestly not as intriguing as Vida Winter.

I tend to re-read this book every year or so, and I just finished it again when I was on my vacation to Seattle/Portland. I don't know why on a flight to Seattle I said to myself that I must read a Gothic mystery novel, but there you go. I did.

The book begins with Margaret getting a request to come and learn about Vida Winter's life and write her life story. Margaret is vaguely familiar with Vida Winter and goes and reads a copy of Winter's book called "Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation" the only issue is that there are only 12 stories, not 13, which led to many in the literary world to wonder about the so-called 13th tale.

I liked that in the end the only thing that kept Margaret on to listen to Vida's tale was for her to promise to tell her a ghost story. And there were many ghosts in her story.

The secondary characters in this one do frighten at times and what you learn about them and what they have done, you can see why Vida Winter has stories featuring ghosts.

I really loved the writing. I could picture all of the characters and Angelfield in my mind.

There is a twist in the end that I did not see coming. I remember being gobsmacked in a good way when all is revealed. I don't know if older me would have picked up on it or not though. I like to think not, I love books that genuinely surprise you. ( )
  ObsidianBlue | Jul 1, 2020 |
The story was an interesting one., and I simply enjoyed the writing style. It sucked me right in and kept me reading. ( )
  prettygoodyear | Jun 29, 2020 |
There is little to write about "The Thirteenth Tale," and what I loved about it, that does not fall desperately, wildly, into cliché. When I say I could not put this book down, I mean it — its winding, dusty, moor-haunted ghost story of a tale is an entrancing one, at turns bewitching and beautiful, horrifying and touching. It is not enough to say this story is a ghost story, though it is a book with ghosts. It is not enough to say that it is a mystery, though it contains many mysteries. It is not enough to say even that it is one story, for it contains so many, or even that it has one main character.

A true Good, Time-stopper and sleep-stealer of a Read. ( )
  priorfictions | Jun 24, 2020 |
4.5 stars ( )
  Bryna_Heaton | Jun 19, 2020 |
If you know your literary history, you will be familiar with a Victorian trend known as the "sensation" novel, which was at its greatest popularity in the 1860s and 1870s. The Thirteenth Tale references many of these works - Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady's Audley's Secret, which are all important touchstones for Setterfield's novel.

There is a strange prejudice that the narrator, Margaret Lea, expresses repeatedly in the course of The Thirteenth Tale, which is that, in her opinion, the conventions of the aforementioned "sensation" novel represent the archetype of the "traditional" novel, with its realistic characters and sensibly linear storytelling. None of that postmodern playing with uncertainty and non-linear plots for her! Indeed, that is supposedly part of why she is reluctant to write about her new biographical assignment, best-selling author Vida Winter.

But here's the thing about the "sensation" novel: it wasn't at all the "traditional" form of the novel, and that is why it only lasted for two decades during the Victorian period! While it did produce a handful of masterpieces, it became the inevitable victim of its own aesthetic principle of trying to shock its readers. The "sensation" novel quickly descended into a series of cliches: hidden family ties, shocking secrets, revelations of madness, incest, murder, and so on.

So you see, while Jane Eyre and Great Expectations and The Woman in White are indeed masterpieces of their time, they are also unrepeatable because they emerge from a particular culture, one that quickly went out of fashion because it was rightly seen (and continues to be seen) as mostly hackneyed and unoriginal.

The latter problem is one that returns in The Thirteenth Tale, which I felt was equally hackneyed and unoriginal. I realize, of course, that Setterfield was trying to pay homage to the "sensation" novel, but a better way to do this would have been to borrow *critically* from that genre, rather than simply repeating its cliches. This aspect of the novel was a particular problem at the book's conclusion, when the reader is bombarded with "revelations" that can be spotted a mile away, such as the true identity of Vida Winter, or Aurelius's Love's connection to the main story.

If Margaret Lea was so interested in the tradition of the British novel, maybe she should have read, say, Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, a work that parodies the Gothic tradition of the late eighteenth century, the direct predecessor of the "sensation" novel. Austen provides the perfect template for paying homage to literary cliches while at the same time reworking them in an original way.

What I found rather more disturbing about the The Thirteenth Tale, though, is its pointed repression of the twentieth century. For me, this wasn't just an aesthetic decision, an overweening admiration of the Victorian novel on Setterfield's part. As far as I'm concerned, this kind of return to the past is a dangerous nostalgia, one that erases the terrible events and lessons of the twentieth century by pretending they are not there.

The reason why most neo-Victorian novels goes back to the past is precisely in order to rediscover what was repressed in Victorian literature. In A.S. Byatt's Angels and Insects, for instance, she reveals the hypocritical, incestuous ties between colonization and aristocracy. In Sarah Waters's Tipping the Velvet we are given a portrait of lesbian sexuality that is otherwise invisible. In Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White we see a different repression of female sexuality in the form of prostitution.

The Thirteenth Tale, by contrast, is not critical or self-aware in the same way as these works. It is an exercise in uncritical nostalgia, a compulsion to repeat the worn-out pleasures of the "sensation" novel. In so doing, it represses the horror of what follows, choosing to focus on the entertainment of the past so as to avoid the more difficult questions of more recent times.
( )
  vernaye | May 23, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 811 (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, Dianeprimary 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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Heyne (40549)
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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.

Haiku summary
The bond between twins
Long-held family secrets
A ruined old house

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