Sunday, 13 April 2008

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

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
Age 30+
Books I done read
Things mean a lot


Jill said...

This one has been on my list since I read Ladytink's review last month. Now I know I have to bump it up closer to the top! Thanks for the review. :-)

Ana S. said...

I will read it - I'm saving it for the RIP III challenge later this year. I'm pretty sure I'll love it. Thanks for the fabulous review!

Bunny B said...

Sounds creepy. I love creepy! Thanks for the review :)

Carl V. Anderson said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. I much prefer the US cover with images of old books on it, but that is just me. This was/is an amazing book and one worth reading and sharing. I hope to read it again sometime in the near future.

Lightheaded said...

Hi Valentina! I adored this book so much when I read it for the RIP II Challenge last year. Reading this now makes me want to pick it up and read it again!

Gee, seeing this new cover is really something. But I liked the old cover as well.

Katherine said...

I LOVED this book.

By the way, I've mentioned your blog over on mine. Check it out!

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

When I saw the picture of your book, I thought--wow I really like her cover! Yes, much better than the stack of books. That was a turn off for me as well. Glad you liked this one!

valentina said...

sorry guys I haven't answered to any of you yet..shame on me:P

darla, it's going to be a quick read even if it looks big! Hope you enjoy it!

nymeth, hehe planning challenges ahead:P well done, I don't think I have done it before, but I can imagine thinking of saving books for next year Once upon the time challenge:)

Bunny, it is kind of creepy yes, I think you'd like it! oh and how's Harriet?:)

Carl, I don't know why but books with books on the cover put me off most of the times...I'm glad you liked it too.

Lightheaded, I'll definitely read it again some day, now that I know the "secret" I want to check on all the details that I missed!

katherine, thanks so much! I'm going now!

Trish, I'm glad you agree with me. It seems like the old cover appealed to booksellers and bookworms. I'm both, but it didn't work for me...

Anonymous said...

I loved your review of this book! I've linked to it as part of my own review.