Monday, November 25, 2013

The Thirteenth Tale


The nights are getting long and cold, which makes it the perfect time of year to snuggle up with a blanket, a hot drink, and an engrossing story. I have an excellent cozy winter recommendation for you.

In The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, quiet bookish Margaret Lea is hired by Vida Winter, the most famous novelist in England, to write her biography. But Winter has lied to everyone who has ever interviewed her - journalists by the dozens have been sent away with dazzling stories of her youth, only to find them to be complete fabrications. Margaret is not convinced that she will be any different. In fact, Margaret is not sure what Vida Winter is actually up to.

The tale the elderly author recounts seems too extraordinary to be true: two beautiful but strange twins, their equally lovely and possibly mad mother, their definitely mad and horrible uncle, their bewildered servants. And is there a murderer in the house as well?

The Thirteenth Tale partakes joyously of the gothic novel tradition, and is in many ways an explicit homage to both Jane Eyre (which you know I love) and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Like those books, it features:

  • a big house full of locked doors
  • strange children
  • ghosts
  • madness
  • windswept moors
  • a governess who ought to watch her step
And so on. And like all gothic novels, its heart is full of secrets. What is the truth about Vida Winter? Will she reveal it? What is the truth about Margaret Lea? Does she even know it?

It’s also a book about stories - the importance and centrality of reading, books, and stories in people's lives. If you love stories too, then fix yourself a mug of something hot, and wrap yourself in the mysteries of The Thirteenth Tale.

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