Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

All children mythologize their birth...

So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter's collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself -- all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter's story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida's storytelling but remains suspicious of the author's sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.

Hardcover, 406 pages
Published September 12, 2006 
by Atria Books

Audiobook, 15 hours, 38 minutes
Narrated by: Bianco Amato & Jill Tanner
4/5 stars
“All children mythologise their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won’t be the truth: it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.”
Ever since I read Once Upon A River I've been a little apprehensive to read another Setterfield book.  I loved it that much.  Ultimately curiosity got the better of me and I dove in.  First with the book, then a couple chapters on audio had me finishing that way.  The 2 readers did an exceptional job.

The Thirteenth Tale is a dark and Gothic mystery that follows Margaret Lea, who works at her father's rare book shop.  Out of the blue she is contacted to write the biography of Vida Winter, a famous author with a mysterious past.  What unfolds is a story that slowly unravels over 400 pages, revealing unsettling twists.  It was a intricately woven plot and one I wasn't able to predict.

Thirteenth is a tale of family, truth and many secrets.  It is well-written and full of surprises.  I highly recommend the audiobook for the unique voices that added depth to Margaret and Vida's stories.

This book was part of my 2023 Reading Off My Challenge, #27.  The audiobook was obtained via Scribd.

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