The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

From TheBookbag
(Redirected from The Thirteenth Tale)
Jump to navigationJump to search

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Buy The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield at or

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A tale of the uncovering of a family's dark secrets and what it means to be a twin. It's un-put-downable and superbly written. It comes highly recommended by Bookbag.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: November 2007
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 978-0752881676

Share on: Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn

Margaret Lea works with her father in his bookshop. She has a deep love of books and some skill as a biographer, but is still surprised when she receives an invitation from the legendary novelist, Vida Winter, to write her biography. Margaret isn't particularly attuned to popular fiction, but finds a copy of Vida Winter's 'Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation' in the bookshop. She devours the first twelve and then discovers that there is no thirteenth tale. What has happened to it?

Uncertain that she will take the commission as Miss Winter seems to have a history of changing her life story to suit the listener, Margaret nevertheless travels to Yorkshire to meet the author. Vida Winter knows which buttons to push for she is a twin and Margaret's twin sister died soon after birth. She still craves contact with her.

Ah, but what a tale this is. As soon as I thought I had worked out the answers everything changed. The book is impossible to put down once it's in your hands and the pace never falters. It's a complex plot, but remarkably easy to follow for all that. The skill, the care that's been put into it just shines through. For every surprise there was a trail of clues and for every twist there was a clear signpost, had you but spotted it.

There's a very strong cast of characters. It would be easy for Margaret, as narrator, to fade into insignificance, but her quest for the truth, not just for herself but for those who've known Vida Winter, is endearing. I wanted her to succeed because she deserved to. Vida Winter could dominate the novel, but doesn't. Even in sickness she's autocratic and demanding, but there are weaknesses, frailties there too. The men are more shadowy but more than adequate for the plot. My favourite character was Hester, the governess who came to take charge of the wild Angelfield twins, but whose growing attachment to the local doctor led to her sudden departure.

It's a superb exploration of what being a twin means and of the effect on the twins of separation - by whatever means. Before I read this novel I had no real concept of what being a twin meant: now I find the thought of twins' interdependence quite frightening.

The evocations of place are very strong. As Margaret left the train at Harrogate and was driven out onto the Moors for her first meeting with Vida Winter I could feel the loneliness and the desolation. Later she visits Angelfield, the twins' childhood home destroyed by fire just before they left. The smell of the aftermath was in my nostrils and I was left with some very powerful images.

It's difficult to believe that this is a first novel, but it is. At a pinch I suppose that the skills of building an excellent plot could be mastered, the trick of painting three-dimensional characters and places learned, but what has to be there, what cannot be taught is the ability to write and the prose here is nothing short of superb. I found myself re-reading passages just for the pleasure that the words gave.

There's a nod here to quite a few other books. As the book opened I was put in mind of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind. It wasn't just that both feature the children of bookshop owners and that books themselves feature in the stories; there's a certain Gothic other-worldliness that pervades both books. There are shades of Jane Eyre and the book is mentioned on more than one occasion. When you read the descriptions of the property at Angelfield (and this is before the fire!) I wouldn't be surprised if you thought of Wuthering Heights.

I found it difficult to place the novel in any particular decade. There are none of the usual markers of wars, monarchs or historical events and this lends a certain timelessness to the book. It's a classic in the making.

I can't remember when I last enjoyed a book as much as I've enjoyed this one. If you think that this might be your sort of book then you'll also enjoy Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind, which I think is only marginally the better book or Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum which is not quite as good. This is a book which is keeping some very good company. You might also enjoy Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield.

This book was sent to Bookbag by the publishers.

Please share on: Facebook Facebook, Follow us on Twitter Twitter and Follow us on Instagram Instagram

Buy The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield at


Like to comment on this review?

Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.

Magda said:

our review made me think of Atkinson well before you mentioned it, even though I have not read Behind the Scenes...

Somehow I don't think it's for me, though.

lisaandkeanu said:

I loved this book it was so atmospheric what with the opening of the dusty bookshop.It was a book that is hard to put down and u have to grab these chances as it's not always so easy to get into some of them from the very start.I think your review is spot on.It kinds reminds me of what charlotte bronte would write.