Week 13–The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is a novel I’ve been wanting to pick up and read for a very long time.  I finally ordered it with my handy Amazon coupon courtesy of Groupon, and got to read a delightful novel!

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0743298039&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrIt was, of course, nothing like I expected, although I feel by now that I should have learned my lesson and let my preconceptions go before I even begin a novel.  It is the story of Margaret Lea, an introverted bibliophile who works in her father’s used book shop and lives above it. In her spare time, she dabbles in writing biographies about the long-dead, spending hours in libraries poring over volumes for information about people who have been half forgotten. When she receives a curious letter from a reclusive and mysterious yet hugely famous author, Margaret embarks on a journey of investigation to get the truth about this author’s life.  In the past, the writer, Vida Winters, has sent every journalist and writer who has attempted to interview her about her formative years away with a different, false story.  Yet finally, at the end of her life, she is ready to tell the truth to the world.

In the dark and chilly setting of a Yorkshire winter, Margaret slowly unravels the sinister and tragic secrets in Ms. Winter’s past, and finds also a friend who can relate to the painful experiences she had as a child.  I feel reluctant to even give a hint as to what Ms. Winter’s story entails, because I went in with no ideas whatsoever, and had quite a good experience in uncovering them as I read, and trying to put together some of the mystery bits on my own.

Setterfield has also dreamed up quite a cast of characters for this novel.  The line between good and evil, stable and insane, joyous and sorrowful, seem to be blurred nicely in everyone Margaret meets, thus remaining as true to life as I’ve ever seen characters in books.  For none of us is truly good or pure evil, and there are different definitions and levels of sanity for each individual. I really enjoyed this fuzziness in the characters. It made it difficult to know who to trust and with whom to sympathize. 

Margaret herself I enjoyed very very much. She reminded me a great deal of myself, with her melancholy, her introversion, and her deep, pure passion for the written word.  It is this last trait that especially drew me to her.  She often describes the feeling of finishing a book and feeling the need to take a break and let the characters sink in before beginning another one, and the unutterable sorrow of seeing a book destroyed–both of these things that I have often felt poignantly myself.

The setting and themes are reminiscent of the novels Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, both of which are also mentioned frequently in the novel and play an important role in the unraveling of Ms. Winter’s tale.  The moors serve as at least part of the setting, as well as an ancient manor which seems to be haunted by old ghosts.  It’s dark and gray, and utterly engrossing.

I highly recommend this novel to everyone. I think it spans a lot of genres–literature, drama, mystery, romance, tragedy.  Even, perhaps, a little of the supernatural. It has a lot of appeal for fans of a lot of different things.  And it’s worth finding out more about it than I’m allowed to tell you, right? So do yourself a favor and read this gem of a book!

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