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The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

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      26.09.2014 12:51
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      The Thirteenth Tale,a gothic novel

      This week is book reviews, and the book I am reviewing this week is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. The story starts with Margaret, who is a woman who has always been surrounded by books, she grew up in a bookshop which her father owns, she now lives above that book shop, she is also a biographer, and one day she receives a letter from a famous writer called Vida WInter. She asks her to come to her house and be her official biographer. She wants to tell the story of her childhood which has not been told before. And then the rest of the story is split in two, where one plot is Margaret's story and her relationship with the Vida Winter and her increasing interest in Winter's story, and then the other plot is the story that Vida Winter tells, which is the story about her childhood which is very unusual. It's a gothic novel, it's a bit of a ghost story, there's quite a lot of mystery to it, there are twists and turns and shocks. It's very atmospheric, it's a story about twins. I really loved this book, I would quite happily have read it all in one sitting, unfortunately I was mainly reading on trains sothat wasn't really possible. I was very impressed by Setterfield's writing, this is her first novel and I'd never heard of here before I came across this book. She writes characters well and the reader really comes away with a good understanding of who the characters are, why they do what they do, and although many characters aren't likable you feel like you understand where they're coming from and why they are the way they are. I first discovered this book from the TV adaptation of it on the BBC last Christmas, I recommend that as well. It stars Vanessa Redgrave, Olivia Colman and Sophie Turner. I watched it again last night and it was more different from the book than I remembered but it's still very good. However I would very strongly suggest that you read the book first, because my enjoyment of the book was slightly reduced by the fact that I knew what some of the twists and turns were. And the book is, in my opinion, better, so if you only want one then go for the book. Yes, I love this book, and I think it's going on my list of top ten books now.
      Let me know what you thought about The Thirteenth Tale if you have read it or seen the TV adaptation.

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      06.02.2013 14:40
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      A great gothic read

      The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield


      As many people who read my reviews know, I tend to read a lot of fantasy based books, though I am also partial to books which take place in the 'real world' as such. I have to be in the right frame of mind to read a book such as this, and there are not many in which I have read that I have fully enjoyed, so these books do come few and far between. 'The Thirteenth Tale' is one such book which falls in the lines of the 'real world'. Of course, if a book was completely focused on the mundane every day experiences in life without even a tiny bit of 'magic' as such, I feel that it would not be so interesting. Luckily enough, this book takes the form of an almost Gothic suspense novel, though this time - there is not a vampire in sight!


      *****************************
      THE LOVE OF A GOOD BOOK
      *****************************

      "A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth."

      Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten. It was once the imposing home of the March family - fascinating and manipulating Isabelle, her brutal and dangerous brother, Charlie, and the wild untamed twins; Emmeline and Adaline. Years later, though, the house is abandoned and desolate and conceals a chilling secret whose impact still resonates loudly in the present...

      Margaret Lea is investigating Angelfields past with help from the mysterious old woman, Vida Winter, who is adept at telling stories, though which stories can Margaret believe, and which are purely from the great imagination of this well known author who now believes it is time to tell the truth?

      Margaret spends weeks at the home of the old author, listening to her tale of the truth, though through the telling of the past, Margaret finds herself investigating the secrets of the house. What is the house hiding? What is its connection with the enigmatic author? And what is it in Margaret's own troubled past that causes her to fall so powerfully under Angelfield's spell?

      They say never judge a book by its cover, and I feel that this is a partly true statement where this book is concerned. There are two covers for this novel, and neither jump out at you in my opinion. One shows the legs of two young girls, wearing the same clothes and shoes and standing on a wooden floor. The other shows a stack of old fashioned books. They do not jump out at you, though they do seem to hold some mystery which allows a prospective reader a slight insight into what might become of reading the pages. The cover, though, is nothing in comparison to the book itself.

      It is not until you open the book and begin reading that you realise exactly what the title of the story means. It is possibly one of the very first mysteries which is unravelled, though what is made obvious at the beginning, takes the whole length of the book to actually have real answers. This is a reoccurring theme throughout, as so many questions and mysteries pop up throughout the novel, and most do not even begin to unravel until the novel starts to meet its end. Of course, the reader can make guesses and start to piece bits and pieces together, though Setterfield adds so many twists and turns that you will not be content until you have turned that very last page, and even then, there are some things in which are left open to a degree in order for the reader to make up their own mind. This can be annoying in other books, though in this novel it works to assist the greatness of the story.

      The story is written in the first person point of view which is seemingly becoming very popular these days. It is not a completely straight forward first person view, though, as we see two stories emerge and overlap; The first and leading narrative coming from Margaret as she leaves her home and investigates the house and its inhabitants. The second is from the view of Vida Winter, the old lady author. This part is also seemingly split into two styles, the first as she talks about the past, weaving her story into the present, and the second is as though the story is unfolding before our eyes like a movie picture. This is spoken from the words of Vida, though it is also spelt out as though through someone else's eyes in many parts. This is a deliberate writing style which aids in the mystery and suspense of the story. In some books, these overlapping styles could become confusing or disjointed, though this book is written so well that there is no confusion at all.

      Working alongside the first person view from these two characters, is the setting. This takes place both in the present as well as the past, driving through a great many years. When the narrative is about the past, dialogue is rarely shown, compared to the present, which is something that also helps lessen confusion.

      Something which I found interesting is the literal 'Beginning', 'Middle' and 'End'. We all know that a good story needs all three of these, though the author has actually split the book into these three parts, with an extra addition to the end. I have read books which try to do this in the past, and have failed as they have no reasoning, though in this novel this split works perfectly and the meaning will become apparent as you read through each section.

      I can not say that I was drawn into the book immediately. The beginning starts at an almost snails pace, and it takes almost a third of the way through before I found myself hanging on to every word, though that is not to say that the beginning is useless or disparaging in any way. It entertains in a more subtle way and through the writing style, it keeps the reader interested just enough for them to continue reading.

      It is apparent from the start that this book in the main is a mystery, though there are also a lot of other themes which take the forecourt throughout. Death is largely explored throughout the book in many different instances, both natural and otherwise. I would not say that the themes are particularly tear-worthy, though they can bring up quite a bit of emotion if you are really drawn into the story as I was. Working alongside this is the theme of loss, though this is covered both in death and other circumstances which again, can spark some emotion especially if in your own life you have been touched by these circumstances. Identity and Reconciliation work hand in hand exploring the twins of the story and other such relationships. Saying this, you will also find a strong subject in exploring the ins and outs of twins, both in past and present tense. This is covered brilliantly and is extremely interesting to read. I am not sure I can really call it a theme, though one other aspect strikes me as very prominent in this book, and that is the constant references to Jane Eyre. This also plays part of the mystery and can be overlooked at first until you really get into the gritty parts of the story and then it all makes sense. This part, I feel, is extremely clever of the author as you will find out when you read the book.

      With a lot of books, I find it takes me quite a while to attach myself to the characters, and this book is no different. Like the storyline, I did not really feel the bond between myself and any of the characters until nearly a third of the way through. This could be perhaps due to the fact that the histories and personalities of the characters seep out slowly throughout the novel, and so the further into the book I got, the more the characters became real and the more I associated with them. There are two main characters who continue through the book, though whilst delving into the past we get a strong sense of all the other characters, and each one is written perfectly.

      So what makes this book any different to other books along these lines?

      As mentioned above, this is not my usual genre of reading, though I have read a number of books along these lines and I have to admit that this is one of the better ones. The story is well balanced and keeps one foot firmly on the floor as the mystery unfolds, with some references to spirits and ghosts without taking it away from the 'real-life' feel. The mystery is multi-layered and has so many twists and turns throughout that the story really hits your heartstrings. In many books of this kind that I have read, the mystery is much more open and easy to unravel before its time, whereas this novel keeps everything so close and lets out only enough information at a time to keep the reader hooked.

      I would not say that the base of the story is anything new, though the style and way that the author brings mystery and suspense into it really makes it something unique.

      One thing which I find very important in a book is the ending. A story can be written perfectly, though if the ending is wrong, then it gives me a really terrible feel to the whole book, almost as though I feel my time was wasted reading it, even if I did enjoy the rest of the story.

      So how does the ending of this book compare?

      There is almost three endings to this book, each one perfectly written and placed within the pages. I do not want to give too much away so I will not go into any detail about these endings, though each one completes a part of the mystery and rounds up the story and characters perfectly. There is almost a heightened sense of emotion as the book nears its close which, again, works really well in comparison to the rest of the story, allowing the last few pages to slow down in order for the reader as well as the character to collect her thoughts.

      The story was 456 pages long, which is perfect length for what this novel wanted to achieve. There were some parts in which felt very slow and useless, though in the end it was clear that every piece in the book was there for a reason.


      ************************
      FINAL WORDS
      ************************

      "A birth is not really a beginning. Our lives at the start are not really our own but only the continuation of someone else's story."

      'The Thirteenth Tale' feels daunting when you first open the page. The slowness of the beginning may put some people off, though once the story really begins, and the characters become rounded and full of emotion, the story really puts its hooks into you.

      The story as a whole is amazing. It has its moments where you may feel as if you want to put the book down, though I would recommend pushing past these moments and you will find a wonderfully gothic read full of mystery, emotion and magic with some fantastic twists and turns that you would never have expected.


      The RRP on this book is £6.99, though I was able to find it in a Charity shop for a mere 50p. It can be found on Amazon presently for only a penny plus postage and packaging. At that price, what do you have to lose?!

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        28.12.2011 11:58
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        Unputdownable

        I found this book in a local charity shop priced £1.15. I brought it because it is described as a mystery and I love mysteries.First published in Great Britain by Orion in 2006 , originally priced at £6.99, written by Diane Setterfield.

        The story is about a young woman called Margaret Lea who has up to now lead a very sheltered life, working in her dad`s antiquarian bookshop and researching biographies of long forgotten authors.Margaret has a very sad secret that she shares with her parents, her dad is sympathetic towards her but her mother is distant towards Margaret because of her own heartbreak.
        Margaret`s adventure begins when she gets a letter from a very famous author, Vida Winter, who is old and ill . Vida invites Margaret to her Yorkshire home so that Margaret can write her biography.Margaret take up the offer, but before she goes she does as much research as she can on the author`s background.
        Vida tells the story slowly giving Margaret time to do more research in between sessions.She uncovers a mystery from many years ago when Vida was a young girl who lived in a huge mansion with other eccentric members of her family. There are the badly behaved twin girls , the diminishing staff, the governess who stays with the family for a short time and causes a scandal before she leaves, a weird uncle who mysteriously disappears, the Doctor and a Ghost?. Who is the stranger that Margaret meets when she visits the ruin of Vida`s childhood home Angelfield House and why does the man feel that the house belongs to him?
        The book is like two parallel stories going on at the same time with the stories from the past and the present being mysteriously linked
        Throughout the story Margaret gradually puts all the pieces together to reach the conclusion about who Vida Winter really is.

        I really enjoyed reading this book and I found it to be unputdownable

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        12.11.2010 09:23
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        An indisputable top read

        This is a review of the 2007 book "The thirteenth tale" by Diane Satterfield. It came as a recommended read from my two aunts so I knew I was not going to be disappointed as they read a lot so when they pass something on it's going to be good!

        The cover of the book is intriguing, two identically dressed little girls standing in an old house. This hints towards the twin theme...

        A bit about the story

        The book begins with Margaret Lea who works in the family book shop and occasionally writes biographical accounts of deceased individuals. Her love of research and investigation makes her the perfect target for mysterious and famous write Vida Winter who selects her to listen to her family past at Angelfield.

        Margaret is reluctant to embark on this project and prefers to choose her own subject but she is intrigued after her first meeting with Vida who promises that this is the missing link from her twelve strong book of short stories, hence the title, 'The thirteenth tale'

        I really can't put much more into the plot outline as it would spoil the way the story unravels. I just couldn't put this book down once I started reading it. I got a bit muddled in the middle, as the characters names are mixed up and you're not sure which twin is which, which one lives, which one dies, and who the bones that are found at the family home belong to but as you move through the generations, the mist clears and you realise that you are totally meant to get a bit muddled up in this novel, as it makes the ending all the more better!

        Best part
        You know that time is not on Vida's side as her illness progresses and you wonder whether she will reach the end of her narration to Margaret as her health deteriorates. The romance of the lonely house, the loyalty of the staff and the intrigue of the story all add to the overall mystery of this novel.

        Relationships
        Margaret's relationship with her father is touching and he makes up for the lack of affection from her distant mother. Margaret is quite a hard to like character but she just takes some warming up and doesn't trust people easily.

        Themes
        Obviously, there's the twin theme! Ghosts and family history, books, writing and reading also feature heavily, as does rural life.

        At the start it sounded like...
        It's a mixture of a ghost story and twins and having recently read 'her fearful symmetry' by Audrey Niffeneger I thought it sounded similar but this one blew that out of the water. It was so much better!

        Recommended read?
        Absolutely! I really enjoyed this one and just could not guess what was going to happen in the end. I had a look to see what else this author has published but it doesn't look like she has done anything else at the moment but if she does, I'd like to read it.

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          09.11.2009 18:10
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          Journey through mystery ..

          The Thirteenth Tale -A mystifying classic tale

          This book was in my To -Read list for quite a few months until last weekend when I got this from my friend. This is an excellent and unique novel with interwoven mysteries which prompts you to read it in a fast pace so as to reach to the end in a jiffy.The book is written within the Gothic tradition with overly rich writing carefully chosen words.

          The book opens with a female writer Margaret being called to the home of a famously cloistered author Vida Winter to give her a lifetime interview. Winter was ailing and wanted Margaret to write her life story before the inevitable approaches.

          The story will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to dramatic scenarios as the interview goes on to capture the life experience and gothic stories. I would say this is just like a circular inference as you will find that the main character gets into her own stories and you will be meddling around to find out the truth which lies beneath the storyteller's life.

          Books play a very important role as both the protagonists are typically identified by books and stories. You might find it bit slow starter until Margaret first interviewed Vida but later on you will be able to connect to mysterious stories.

          A real classics for me...when are you going to pick up your copy?
          Do let me know your thoughts ...

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            22.06.2009 23:20
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            An excellent gothic mystery.

            Book Summary...

            Biographer Margaret Lea receives a letter from the famous author, Vida Winter, asking her if she would write her biography. Margaret is reluctant to do so as she prefers to write biographies of those no longer living. However, Margaret has sorrow of her own, and Vida draws her in with a promise of a story involving twins. Margaret's own sorrow over losing her twin coupled with the fact that Vida has never told any journalist her life story, sways Margaret into agreeing to do the biography.

            But what has Vida Winter have to do with the forgotten Angelfield House and its strange occupants? Many years ago, a strange family lived there, Isabelle and her dangerous brother Charlie who seem to have an unnatural relationship, and two wild and strange twin girls. There are many secrets to be revealed now that Vida, in her last days, has chosen to reveal...

            Book Review...

            This is one of those books that has been on my "to read" list for a while. I have been sucked in by the hype, along with the masses of raving reviews I have come across. I fully expected to be disappointed as I usually am with this type of thing. You can imagine then, that I was extremely surprised that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one and it did, in fact, deserve the praise that has been heaped on to it!

            I liked that there was no hanging around and already from the third or fourth page, the elusive character of Vida Winter was revealed and the mystery surrounding her life had begun. From the letter that she sent Margaret requesting her to do Miss Winters biography, my interested was piqued; she described how over the years, journalists had come to her requesting her life story but she has always managed to successfully evade telling it. Not only did Vida Winter never give up her story, she never even gave them a grain of truth; always choosing to concoct an elaborate, amusing and ultimately interesting story for them to ponder on instead. The fact that Vida Winter had gone to great pains to conceal her life story from the media and her adoring general public meant it was easy to become curious as to what exactly her story was. This resulted in some great expectations on my part but most importantly, it set the scene for an incredible journey through her past.

            Firstly, the negatives. There aren't many, and in fact, I can't really call this a negative as it didn't effect my enjoyment of the story. Margaret's character, although inoffensive was not the most enigmatic character and although she has her own secret that she is withholding from Vida, I didn't really find her of particular interest, I viewed her merely as the narrator of Vida's story. The book is split into sections which separate the story that Vida is telling Margaret of her life and Margaret's own point of view, when she is researching and delving deeper into Ms Winters history. This side of the book, although interesting as it had bearing on the history of Vida Winter as a whole, as well as introducing the important character of Aurelius Love, was not as interesting for me, I couldn't wait for it to turn back to Vida, when she would explain the story of her childhood. I just couldn't be drawn into her life, I felt sympathy for her in some instances, but her character wasn't that well developed for me to take a real interest.

            Of course, Vida is the most interesting, curious and important character in the book. This is about her life story and within that we find why her whole life has been shrouded in utter mystery. Despite knowing that something dramatic must've happened in her past for her to not want others to pry into it, it comes as a bit of a surprise that her story has many, many layers; her whole identity from birth is questioned beginning with the revelation that Vida is a twin and spiralling out of control from that moment on. There are several irregularities throughout the book that left me feeling confused and with several questions, but patiently (or rather, impatiently!) I had to wait like Margaret for Vida to reveal these discrepancies in her own good time. (Vida pre-empts all of Margaret's eagerness to know everything immediately: " 'You remember our agreement, she began as I sat down in the chair on the other side of the fire, 'Beginnings, middles and endings, all in the correct order. No cheating. No looking ahead. No questions.'" In this way, Vida cleverly lets Margaret think that all these problems and questions will be resolved in time when in fact her clues, very subtly indeed, are there the whole time.

            Described as a "gothic mystery" , Vida's tale of the twins at Angelfield House is certainly a spooky one. I found the way in which the whole family was described - from Isabelle an Charlie through to the twins - quite troubling. I couldn't quite put my finger on what exactly was making the whole story quite so eerie and - well - not quite right! I loved the mixing of identities, the way I which Vida confuses Margaret - and in turn the reader - into whom she is referring too. One minute she talks about "they", the next time it is "we" and later, I. At first this could be mistaken for simple irregularities whilst she is reminiscing about her childhood and her sister, but it being hinted at that this is another clue inot Vida not alluding to something important. So subtly is this written, that any normal reader wouldn't pick up on it, which makes the conclusion all the more gratifying. Having said that, I read a review that said seasoned mystery readers would guess what really happened to Vida, although I'd argue against that strongly; I couldn't work out the whole story for myself, although I admit that some of the clues became more and more evident throughout.

            This is an excellent debut novel that is unique, beautifully written with lots of layers of mystery that compel you to read as quickly as you can to the end. A dark story of twins and their strange upbringing, of mistaken identity, loss and doing anything for love. Highly recommended.

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              05.06.2009 16:36
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              An outstadning novel

              The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is probably the only book I have read in quite a while that not only grabbed my attention but held it throughout as well as living up to and probably surpassing all my expectations of it. I must therefore admit before I go any further that I utterly adored this book and from the opening words to the closing sentence founds myself completely wrapped up in the tale I was being told.

              As a title 'The Thirteenth Tale' is in many ways important to the basis of the story but in other ways merely a side-line but an intriguing one at that, whichever line of the story grabs your attention the most however is not particularly important because all parts of the tale that Setterfield tells through her characters captures your attention and keeps you gripped as the drama unfolds in the depths of your imagination.

              The novel tells the story of Margaret Lea, a lover of books and the stories that every page of them can tell. Margaret is nothing special, she simply spends her time in her fathers old book store cataloguing and writing biographies of those long dead and forgotten. That is however until the somewhat mysterious author Vida Winter asks her to write the story of her life. Margaret is more than apprehensive about the undertaking but something about the tales surrounding Miss winter grab hold of her.

              Miss Winter over the next few months tells Margaret the story of Angelfield House, which was once the home of the March family. She tells her the story of the fascinating yet manipulative Isabella, her brutal brother Charlie and the somewhat wild and definitely untamed twins Emmeline and Adelaide. Their stories however aren't the whole truth as Angelfield House holds within its boundaries a concealment of chilling secrets that have a resonating impact.

              The Thirteenth Tale is in my opinion an absolutely outstanding book and I must admit that I never once guessed what was going to happen in the coming pages and was unaware of how the whole story would be brought to a close until the moment for it to happen came. Even now after reading the story I know that I would never have guessed its ending and that is why I think I enjoyed the book so much. I hate predictability in a novel and I dislike straightforward narrative threads preferring to read more about interwoven ideas and stories told by and about complex and intriguing characters. The Thirteenth Tale offers all of this and more, making it an absolutely tremendous read from page one.

              I completely agree with the Cosmopolitan quote on the back of the book, which says that if you 'start reading this on the bus and, I swear, you won't only miss your stop, you might even lose the whole day', because this is exactly what happened to me. OK, I didn't miss my bus stop because reading on a bus makes me feel ill but I did manage to spend a whole weekend engrossed in this wonderfully novel and was utterly disgruntled when my mum decided we'd have a family outing, as that meant relinquishing the story.

              All in all I found this novel to be a truly compelling read and one that I would highly recommended. It is intense and intriguing as well as being dramatic and emotional. The Thirteenth Tale is a powerful read on all accounts, that will catch you hook line and sinker and not let go until its landed you at the end of this unforgiving yet marvellously created little tale.

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                25.05.2009 14:51
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                The life of a fictional famous author is about to be told.

                I had mixed emotions when I picked up this book: there was quite a lot of 'ums and arghs'. I didn't know what to expect. However, I'm glad to say that I actually found the book enjoyable and a surprisingly quick read.

                In Setterfield's novel, Vida Winter is England's most famous living author, and whose life has remained a mystery. No newspaper or biographer has ever managed to find out her real story. This novel begins when this author decides that she wants her biography to be written by Margaret Lea, a rather isolated and withdrawn young woman.

                The book is written with the story of Margaret Lea intertwined around Vida Winter's tale. What emerges is an almost haunting novel, full of twists and turns, where secrets are unravelled.

                It is a very good debut novel and if anyone were to ask whether they should read it, I wouldn't hesitate to say it is worth a go. However, it may not be a book that I would push forward at the top of my recommendations. I cannot help feeling that if the story had been developed by a more established writer, the plotlines may have been more subtle. Sometimes, there were plotlines that were either unnecessary or a little obvious. This is just a minor point, though.

                (I originally wrote this review for Amazon.co.uk.)

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                23.03.2009 21:30
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                A good old fashioned yarn.

                The Thirteenth Tale is Diane Setterfield's debut novel.... and wow what a debut!

                A brief description: Vida Winters is the country's favourite author. But no-one knows anything about her life. In the last 2 years alone she has given various journalist 19 different versions of her life story, swearing each one is the truth. Until now, facing the end of her life she feels compelled to tell the truth. She chooses Margaret Lea, a mousy bookish biographer, after reading her biography on 2 brothers. The story is set in the present as she tells her story, and the past where the story unfolds.

                I absolutely loved this book, and could not stop reading, while at the sametime didn't want it to end. You know when your so engrossed in a book you actually hold your breath and have to remind yourself to breathe? Its exciting, atmospheric and mysterious. I didn't see the twists coming at all. If you love Victorian gothic or just a good old ghost story, you will love this. It has it all, the crazy, dangerous and insestious aristocracy in the big delapitated mansion, the loyal servents, illigitament children and dark family secrets.

                While you never know when the story is set, I would put the 'present' in the fifties/sixties and the past in the 1870/80's. There are strong references and lots of mentions throughout of Jane Eyre

                Give this a go. You won't be dissapointed. I can't wait for the next Setterfield novel.

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                  17.02.2008 15:21
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                  Highly recommended

                  I've just finished reading this book and had to write a review about it straight away because it was just so good - everyone should go straight out and buy it! I read quite a lot, but it's not often that I find a book that I can devour within twenty four hours of starting it - this book is an exception. I'm not sure why I bought this book - I think it must have been on offer on Amazon or something as the cover says that it costs £12.99, but I know for a fact I would never have spent that much on a book, however good it is!

                  Based on the fact that I read the book in under twenty four hours you've probably guessed already that this book isn't a weighty intellectual masterpiece, but I think this novel is exceptional in its genre.

                  The Thirteenth Tale is Diane Setterfield's first novel, but she has written numerous factual books mostly based on 19th and 20th French literature. This novel would probably fall into the mystery category.

                  Hopefully without spoiling the ending for anyone who hasn't read the book, the basic plot is as follows. Margaret Lee, a twenty-something bookshop keeper and part-time biographer, is asked by renowned author Vida Winter, who is on her deathbed, to write her biography. Vida has led a secretive life and it is only as she comes to the end of her life that she feels able to expose the secrets of her past. Margaret travels to Vida's home in Yorkshire where she lives with her while writing the biography. Margaret embarks on her own research at the same time as Vida tells her story and the reader is invited to play the guessing game to discover how the eminent author has kept the family secrets and made a success of her life following what can only be described as a very disturbed childhood. While learning about Vida's past Margaret must come face to face with the ghosts from her own past.

                  I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone who's not read the book so I'll hold off from revealing the ending. Setterfield keeps the reader guessing throughout the whole novel, having gripped our attention from the very start. Every time you think you maybe have a possible explanation to the mystery another piece of evidence which proves you wrong comes into play. I felt as if Setterfield were manipulating my imagination to bring me to certain conclusions and I fell for it every time. When the mystery is revealed, it makes perfect sense but it had never crossed my mind that this would be the solution. However, all the clues are there and I was left feeling like an idiot for not having guessed what the secret was. Small pieces of evidence that didn't seem important at the time prove to be vital to the solution and all fall into place in the end.

                  At various points throughout the plot the suggestion is made that the paranormal is the only remaining explanation for the mystery. This infuriated me momentarily as I hadn't bought the novel expecting it to be a ghost story and I often think that using ghosts is a bit of a cop out used by authors who don't have the imagination to come up with a decent plausible plot. However, the ghost theories were thankfully all rubbished by the end and I was left with a hole free explanation for the events.

                  The novel stays true to the mystery genre throughout and doesn't stray into the romance theme like many books do. At the very end there is a very slight romantic storyline going on, but this doesn't take away from rest of the book, in fact, it makes for a nice rounded ending, as all areas of the biographers life are finished off so to say.

                  One thing that annoyed me slightly about the novel is that it is so focused on Vida's life that we learn little about anything other than the central events in the book. The exact location in time is left unknown to the reader. While Margaret is writing the biography we know that there are cars and telephones but apparently there are no mobile phones and computers don't seem to be in general usage. I guessed that we were talking about the eighties but there is nothing definitive in the book to tell you this. Also, I would have thought that the earlier parts of Vida's life would have approximately crossed over with either of the World Wars and some mention of what else was happening in the world would have made the novel even more believable. The story is very focused on Vida's story and we meet few characters who are not directly involved in the story. While in some ways this narrow view helps the reader to focus on the matters in hand, I would have preferred a slightly broader perspective.

                  I'd highly recommend this book to everyone - I think that both men and women would enjoy it - it's certainly not a ladies who lunch type novel. I hope Diane Setterifeld is planning to write more fiction - I'll be first in the queue to buy it if she does!

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                    11.02.2008 00:27
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                    Two peoples' lives of different generations come together as a mysterious past is revisited

                    Now and again a book comes along that takes your breath away and leaves you gasping with surprise at just how good it is. Diane Setterfield's debut novel, THE THIRTEENTH TALE, is as fine an example of this as you are ever going to get and so far I have yet to hear a single bad review or opinion of this novel. Some of you may know, I am a member of the book swap site, READITSWAPIT, and on the forums there I run a regular thread where people can nominate their best reads each month until, at the end of the year, members vote for their favourite from a short-list of contenders. This book won the best RISI read of 2007!! This may not mean a lot but when you consider how many members there are on the site all with varying reading tastes, it kind of indicates just how popular this book has become in a relatively short space of time.

                    So what is it about?

                    Well the book is a kind of gothic mystery tale very much in the vein of such books as Sarah Waters' FINGERSMITH or Daphne De Maurier's REBECCCA; though it also shares familiar themes and a heavy connection to the timeless classic, JAYNE EYRE. A book that has obviously been written for book-lovers everywhere, it tells the story of Magaret Lea; the daughter of an eminent rare book-seller whose life is overshadowed by the loss of her siamese twin at an early age who was unable to survive once seperated from her sister. This loss has become a family secret- never mentioned but lurking in the background of their family life- so when successful novellist, Vida Winter, asks Margret to write the true story of her life, she jumps at the chance to share someone else's secret past.

                    Vida Winters is best known both for a novel of thirteen tales that has only ever been published with twelve of the stories and for her constant embellishment and fabrications of her past when questioned by journalists. Now for the first time, as she lays close to dying, she chooses Margaret to tell her story to the world...

                    From the very beginning, the characters leap off the page and into your life. You cannot help but get wrapped up in the mystery behind Vida Winter's past as she reveals a family history that has been mired in tragedy. Her story takes the reader from the ruins of Angelfield House into a bygone age and then back into the present day as Margaret strives to discover the heart of the secret before it becomes too late and Miss Winter's tale is lost forever.

                    Anyone who loves books and is as obsessed with reading as I am will love this book and empathise with Margaret immediately. Anyone who loves their classics such as Bronte et al will also be entranced. Even if you just like a cracking good yarn then this book is for you. In point of fact it is hard to think of anyone who won't enjoy this book.

                    Like I say, I have read a lot of reviews, comments and opinions and I have yet to hear a bad one yet. This book is one waiting to be discovered by an even greater audience than the one it shares right now. The writing style is magnificent, the characters so believable - my only concern is that by establishing such a high benchmark, Diane Setterfield may not be able to match this success if she writes anything else. One can only hope that I'm delightfully proven wrong!!

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