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REVIEW: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

SYNOPSIS: Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise — she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story.

Both women will have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets... and the ghosts that haunt them still.

GENRE: Fiction, Mystery, Gothic

FORMAT: Audiobook

RATING: ★★★★☆ / 4 mysterious stars.

REVIEW: Another book that has been sitting on my shelf for years that I've finally got around to thanks to an audiobook and the local library. Can you sense my happiness at another bookish accomplishment through the faux literary spiderweb? I'm so happy at the progress I've been making lately!

The Thirteenth Tale can be labeled a number of different ways: Gothic, Mystery, Suspense, (Romance too, though not in an amorous way, but by the traditional definition of romance novels that I learned about in an English Lit class at some point and it stuck with me). The story and setting is dark and moody, perfect for rainy day reading if you have the chance. The author weaves the story around you like a dream, completely enveloping you into the narrative. And it's downright creepy at times and achingly sad in other moments. If you're a fan of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, I felt the same undertones and emotions veined through this novel, if that helps in the comparison.

There is a story-within-a-story, which, when done right, I always love and this one was done right. That is where all the mystery lies, being told to us from a famous writer who has never revealed any truthful facts about her past. But she has decided that the truth must be told to someone and she chose Margaret, our eyes and ears into the book. Now Margaret is where I had a few hick-ups while reading this novel. I understand the whys of her character and perhaps the necessity of her particular background, but I found some of her internal emotions a bit over-dramatic. I'll let you be the judge because no spoilers, but there were moments when I wanted to roll my eyes at her a bit. Her external detective work when she wasn't listening to Vida Winter tell her story though, was fantastic. It helped to connect the dots in the story through time but it also gave interesting breaks to the story-within-a-story that added another level of suspense and drive to plot.

Here's where I get to brag a little and say that I figured out part of the mystery, the biggest twist, before it was revealed (though not that far in advance, it was just around the corner really). There is a moment when you're reading, or in my case listening, when you start to think, what that's crazy...but what if..., and then you realize that everything fits. You wonder at the reliability of the narrator, where does truth end and omission begin? And that's all I will say on the matter because you deserve to discover every bit of it for yourself.

This book became un-put-downable. The ending is a driving force that demands to be read. I do so love a strong finish. It's fair to say that I recommend the book and if my ramblings have endeared you to it then I say move it to the top of your to-be-read list immediately! Happy reading.


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