Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale is one of those books that I have seen around and heard bits and pieces about for awhile. I mainly like to read books that people LOVE, because I'm picky. So I finally picked up a copy after hearing people use the L word.

This story is dark. That's my over all impression. It has interesting characters, good mysteries, and a story within a story within a story really. There is modern (1980's maybe?) woman who is an expert on old books, and she is approached by a dying famous, successful writer who wants to finally divulge her life story. The truth this time. Margaret has her own secret past that has shaped her life, and she decides to take on this writing assignment.

I was a bit disappointed in the Margaret story. I felt like the author kept coming back to it and giving us a few details then immersing us in Vida Winter's story. The back and forthing was kind of weird for me. I'm not sure if the book would have been any better without giving us so much of Margaret's, but I think I would have preferred it. It felt kind of like extra stuff to me.

Just as with The Book Thief, I am in awe of Setterfield's ability to come up with such a crazy, complicated story. I definitely give her credit that the story is in the style of the Bronte sisters. Remember how I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a little while back? It's been years since I read Jane Eyre, which is consequently mentioned throughout The Thirteenth Tale, but I know it well enough to categorize this in the same genre. That being said, it's not my favorite type of book.

And since I'm starting with the negative first, the most disturbing part of this book to me (and there are quite a few to choose from) is the idea of an evil child. Adeline is so awful. Most of the book I kept the hope that she grows out of it in the end (you'll see why as you read) but sadly, that isn't the case. Maybe it's just too close to home for me with my 4 stinkers, but it was upsetting. If you've read it, you understand that she wasn't given a fair chance from the beginning, so maybe I can pass it off as one of those terrible results of horrific circumstances.

Now, after all that, I did like this book! I recommend it! Specifically if you like Emily and Charlotte's work. But just know I warned you of the DARKNESS.

At the beginning, Margaret is asked in a letter by Vida Winter to write her biography, and Margaret has no interest. She doesn't think of herself as a contemporary writer, and has no interest in Ms. Winter's wildly popular fiction. UNTIL she starts to read her books. Then she is hooked, and I love the description of how she devours them. "these days when i read all day and half the night, when I slept under a counterpane strewn with books, when my sleep was black and dreamless and passed in a flash and I woke to read again--the lost joys of reading returned to me." Nicely said.

Here's another example of Setterfield's good writing:

"the water logged sky that pressed down claustrophobically on the land, on the road, on the car."

"Weightless, I wandered all night long in Miss Winter's story....peering at the mysteries beyond its bounds."

I loved Miss Winter's description of the characters in her future books appearing to her as a large group, then disappearing one at a time as she wrote each of their stories. Her explanation for why she was finally telling her life story, was that her sister was the only one left in these visits.

I also liked Margaret's description of reading books in a row, "You leave the previous book with ideas and themes--characters even--caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you."

I'd love to hear why you did or didn't like this book. I can think of many reasons for both. Plus I have more thoughts about the ending, but I don't want to spoil anything.


Sharlene, Mom, Grammy said...

This sounds very intriguing!! When was it published? You always do such a good job at reporting! You have a way with words and explaining.

The GruCru said...

this has been on my "to read" list for a while. I'll let you know what I think about it and then we can chat about the ending.