Every once in a while I read a book that I can’t put down and I know I will want to read again. This was the case with “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield.
One of the main characters of the book is Vida Winter, a fictitious famous author in England who has eluded biographers for fifty years, telling them only invented stories about her life and making up her past as she goes along. When she gets ill and learns that her life is fading, Winter turns to an amateur biographer, Margaret Lea, to trust to tell her life story from its eccentric beginning to its tragic end.
Margaret is a bookish sort who has remained almost cloistered in her father’s bookshop all of her life, choosing to lose herself in the lives of the dead—through old books—rather than to foster relationships with the living.
After receiving a request from Winter to write her biography, Lea reads a rare copy of Winter’s “Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation.” She is intrigued by the stories and rather confused when she finds that there are only twelve stories rather than thirteen. It is then that she wonders, “Where is the thirteenth tale?” And her curiosity leads her to agree to tell Vida Winter’s “true” story.
Winters tells her life story as would any novelist, insisting on beginning at the beginning and going to the end, with no deviations. Margaret records Winter’s account and begins her journey in finding out all of the family secrets of the Angelfield family, including the skeletons in the closet that continue to haunt them now.
This story of Gothic suspense had me enthralled the minute I opened the first chapter. There are so many interesting characters and stories to try to figure out, that I did not want to stop reading. This book left me wanting more, but it wrapped up rather nicely in the end.
The book is full of beautiful references to, and about, books. Margaret’s love of books is something almost sacred to her, and it made me almost weep.
Of course, I was excited to read this book when I read that it was a ghost tale. But if you are not into the supernatural, do not let this put you off. It is not full of weird, implausible plot points. It is also not scary. It is a suspenseful book that has twists and turns that you will never see coming.
It is a book that you will definitely want to talk to someone about when you are finished, so I suggest you read it for a book group selection or have a friend read it as well. Or, email me! I will be happy to talk with you about it. I am looking forward to the day when enough time has passed that I can read it again. I know there are so many things in the book that I might have missed.