All posts for the month November, 2014

The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield) Review

Published November 5, 2014 by ElisaChristy

Having read this book when I was fifteen, though only recently obtaining my own copy, this remains one of the few books I have read where being told “You’ll never guess the twist” did not in fact make me guess the twist or lower my enjoyment of the book.

“‘It doesn’t do to get attached to these secondary characters. It’s not their story. They come, they go and when they go their gone for good. That’s all there is to it.'”

The story follows Margaret Lea, a part-time biographer who is called upon to record the life of novelist Vida Winter. Vida Winter has told many made-up stories of her life in the past, but she now decides it is time to tell the truth and believes Margaret is the one to tell it to.

The book is about twins, or rather about being a twin. Margaret, who was a conjoined twin at birth, and her sister was cut away from her, so she could live. As the story is written from Margaret’s point of view, we have a sub-plot about her twin as well as the twins of Angelfield House, where Vida Winter used to live.

“I must have unlocked it, but this piece of reality has been lost and the image of the door opening by itself persists.”

The story has its inspiration from other gothic stories such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Turn of The Screw. The fact that all these books are mentioned in the story illustrate this, and the book is written in the same sort of style, only with updated language. The book seems to be set up to have a supernatural conclusion, even though we know the book is the story of someone’s life, so the conclusion must be set in the real world mustn’t it?

“‘You are suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination. Symptoms include fainting, weariness, loss of appetite, low spirits. Whilst on one level the crisis can be ascribed to wandering about in freezing rain without the benefit of adequate waterproofing, the deeper cause is more likely to be found in some emotional trauma. However, unlike the heroines of your favourite novels, your constitution has not been weakened by the privations of life in earlier, harsher centuries…”‘

As the story is written from Margaret’s point of view, we get the story of her twin mixed in the with story of Vida Winter and though I can see why Margaret has been given a twin for the benefit of the story, I also feel the ending could have been left as Vida Winter’s rather than Margaret’s. Though this is just opinion and it does the book no harm having an extra ending there.

“‘We live like latecomers at the theatre: we must catch up as best we can, divining the beginning from the shape of later events.'”

As this is my second time reading the book, meaning I could go through following the clues of the mystery, I was surprised that there were some elements of the story and even some twists I had forgotten, as they were overshadowed by the main one, meaning I could enjoy the story in part as if I were reading it for the first time. And I think, now I have my own copy, that I can and will read the book again, as if for the first time, in another few years.