The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher/Format:Simon and Schuster audio: 14 discs 432 page equivalent Characters: Vida Winter, Margaret Lea, assorted twins and foundlings
Subject: family relationships and secrets
Setting: early 20th century England ???
Genre: mystery, Gothic drama, story-telling, ghost story
Source: public library
This one defies description. It can be a ghost story, a fictional biography of a story-teller, an unfinished collection of short stories, a mystery, a gothic tale of horror ala Jane Eyre, but whatever genre the reader tries to fit this one into, it will defy characterization. A New York Times best seller in 2006, this was chosen by our local book club for the January selection.
It's a many layered story in which Vida Winter, a recluse and aging author of twelve tales of her life over the years, has finally decided to allow the thirteenth to be published, and the world is waiting. She chooses Margaret Lea, a quiet biographer working in her father's bookstore,to help her write the final story. Margaret has her own hidden childhood riddle to uncover . As Ms Winter dictates her story to Margaret, we find stories buried in stories, ghosts flying in and out, foundlings, governesses, tales of twins separated and reunited, mad relatives in attics, bumbling but loving household help, the ubiquitous British solicitor, and surprise after surprise. It's not the kind of book I normally would be attracted to, but I found myself unable to stop reading it once it began.The setting, the exquisite characterization, the unraveling of clues leading to more mystery, all held me rapt.
In my book club last night, only one person in the group gave up on it, the others read it and all agreed they thought it was worth reading. Several found it confusing to follow in parts, several found that parts of it were rather contrived, and we all had trouble nailing down the time frame in which the story took place and in assigning a specific genre to it.
We all agreed it's an intriguing book that could have done with a trim here or there (there were several sub-plots nominated for elimination) but all things said we can recommend it to anyone who wants to pick up an engrossing book.