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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

TBR Day: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Most people read The Thirteenth Tale last year or the year before. I added it to my wishlist at Paperbackswap right when the reviews first started to show up, and I got it reasonably soon after. Then it sat on my shelf for over a year. I finally added it to my list of 12 (scroll down) that I was definitely going to read this year- this is the 5th one I've read off the list. It's not looking so good for the rest of them, or my other challenges, and I really doubt I'll hit 60 this year either. These darn kids taking up all my time! Maybe I should quit my day job?

So, The Thirteenth Tale is the story of two writers, Vida Winter, who writes fiction, and Margaret Lea, a biographer. Miss Winter has spent her life NOT telling her storyy, and in fact telling every possible lie about it, and now wants Margaret to come write it for her. The story has a gothic feel to it. For example, Miss Winter lives in the middle of nowhere in a big home with formal gardens,Margaret travels by train, there are "ghosts". It's really hard to put a date on the book, but it definitely is before the computer age. There is a parallel plot line about Margaret's own life and the connection both women have to twins.

I liked Miss Winter, I thought she was well written and believable as a slightly crazy old woman. She started off stiff and foreboding, but by the end she was softening and becoming human. Through the course of the story, her character becomes more human as well, and I thought this part was very well done. Her part of the story becomes more real as she tells it, which fits perfectly with the story line.

Margaret was ok, but at times it felt like the author picked a stereotype for her and refused to bend- bookish, would never harm a book, spinster, a bit OCD, close connection with Daddy while distant from her mother, etc. The side plot about her twin seemed almost silly. I thought Setterfield was using it as an obvious way to add a bit of a ghost story to it, and I didn't think the book needed that. (There are no ghosts in the story, just ghosts from their past. This is not a paranormal book.) It could have been left out without hurting the story at all.

The rest of the characters were just obvious- Aurelius's background was obvious from the moment it was questioned, likewise, you knew who Ambrose was the minute he showed up. From the moment the doctor almost smiled, you knew he'd be back. Miss Winter's mystery did catch me by surprise, but I thought the story kinda went downhill from there. From the end looking back, the hints were there, but it almost seemed like a letdown after the buildup it was given, almost like a cop out. I wanted a more complicated explanation.

Overall, compelling story, but full of weak points. I enjoyed it while reading it, but it won't be a keeper.

I reviewed this book as part of avidbookreader's TBR Day. You can read the other participants reviews by following the links on this page.



  1. I read this book after it first came out..rented it at the library...and it just didn't stick with me as it did with other people. I mean, I remember enjoying it while I read but I just don't remember the details too well. Like it apparently references Northanger Abbey which I don't remember. Hmm...maybe it's a to-read-again-at-some-point book.

  2. I remember readers raving about this book. I remember starting it but I didn't stick with it. Thanks for the review Lisa.


  3. I loved this book. This is a great book to read in the fall and winter months. It had a gothic setting, and full of twists and turns. Our book club discussed it.
    In honor of our book club's 1st b-day, we had a book club tea party.
    It was great, the book and the tea.

  4. This book was okay. I think Vida's story was a bit unbelievable, but by the end I felt it was all in good-fiction-fun. Review here.

  5. I really liked this one but Margaret (and her twin) really really bugged me--to the point where I almost skimmed when it was just her (and her twin). Sorry it didn't quite do you it for you!

    And I don't know how some of the moms do it all with the kids and the reading/blogging. I can barely keep up and I don't have kids yet!

  6. Great review. I totally agree with the part about Margaret's twin. It was just too much. It was an interesting read most of the time but not a book I plan on keeping for another go.


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