Margaret Lea is a bookworm. She lives for her books, she looks after them with her father in their antiquarian bookshop. She doesn’t have a life of her own, instead she craves to know about past lives, about ordinary people who don’t exist anymore, but whose lives she can reconstruct through her biographical studies. She loves novels as well, but she won’t read contemporary fiction, claiming that modern stories don’t have proper endings. There are too many books to read in a single lifetime – you have to draw the line somewhere.
One day, out the blue, she receives a letter from England's most popular and most loved author, Vida Winter, asking her to be her biographer. Many journalists had tried to find out the truth about her, but all they were able to get was just another well-crafted lie, a beautifully told tale of a life never lived. Now the world’s most famous author is ready to tell her story, and has chosen Margaret to write it down for her.
Margaret, who has never read a single book by Vida Winter, borrows a copy of The Thirteen tales of Change and Desperation and is quickly drawn into her spell. But after reading the twelfth tale, she’s filled with astonishment, as she realises that there is no thirteen tale.
This is just the first of the many mysteries that Vida Winter is going to unravel, little by little, by telling her story of her life at Angelfield.
My story is not only mine; is the story of Angelfield. Angelfield the village. Angelfield the house. And the Angelfield the family itself. George and Mathilde, their children, Charlie and Isabelle; Isabelle’s children, Emmeline and Adeline. Their house, their fortunes, their fears. And their ghost. One should always pay attention to ghosts, shouldn’t one, Miss Lea?
It’s also the story of their madness, I might add. A madness that runs through the Angelfield family like a curse and it will be the ultimate cause of their destruction.
I won’t say anymore, lest I’d spoil the mystery.
I must admit that I didn’t see the final revelation coming, and it was a complete surprise. I caught a glimpse of the truth only seconds before it was revealed. And yet, when you thought you knew the truth, there was still something else to discover, till almost the last page. The ending made me want to reread it straight away, or at least to go and find the bits that would show me some clues, some bits of the puzzle that didn’t seem to fit quite perfectly. But everything in the end makes sense, everything ties up nicely, as in the good old-fashioned endings. Except for one mystery that is left there hanging, and for which the readers must choose their own answer.
This is a story that sucked me in completely, even though when the narrator was turning away from Angelfield and the twins, to talk about her own life, I was impatient, wanting to know more about what happened to the girls and the people surrounding them. But in the end, even those parts are necessary to the unraveling of the story. Just wait and see, is my advice.
I must say that before receiving my free copy I never really thought I’d read this book. Even though I’ve read a lot of positive review and I knew it was a book for book lovers, I was never attracted to it. I think it was the cover. I am hopelessly and inevitably influenced by the covers, and nothing you can say will change it! But apparently the old cover didn’t work for the UK market either, so the paperback was released with a completely different image. A photograph that doesn’t tell you “this is a book about books”, but says “it’s a story about children, maybe twins, set in the past…”. Now my attention was captured.
It is indeed a book about books, but not only. It’s a Gothic mystery, an incredible page-turner and simply a well-crafted story. Read it.
other blog reviews:
Mog's book blog
Hanne's bookshelf and journal
East of the sun and west of the moon
Chris at Stuff as dreams are made on
Meanderings along the narrow way
Melody's reading corner
a striped armchair
Bell literary reflections
Lost in a good story
Maw book's blog
Musing of a bookish kitty
Marg at ReadingAdventures
A high and hidden place
Books I done read
Things mean a lot