Kathy's Reviews > The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
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Jun 17, 10

bookshelves: fiction, hmmm
Read from June 14 to 17, 2010

Margaret Lea... a bookseller's daughter, reserved, totally into books - sampling them all... struggling with the knowledge & loss of a conjoined twin - whom she only knows about because of a scar, and a hidden birth certificate - but it leaves her not whole...

Vida Winter... prolific, well loved author, in her 80's, dieing... and after a lifetime of making up life stories to journalists, she wants to tell the truth... and she chooses Margaret because of a biographical article she did about brothers...

The book is well written, because as Vida tells her story - insisting it must be told from the beginning... and Margaret is working through her life story (again, from the beginning)... she leaves clues that hint at the truth hidden all these years... and weave together ...

We learn that Vida is the illegitimate daughter of Charles, abandoned in his garden... we learn that Emmeline & Adeline - twins, and daughters of Charles' sister Isabel & probably of incest of Charles... Isabel & Charles grew up without a mother... and with a father that wasn't quite right, and allowed Isabel's whims dictate the household... Charles in turn is cruel & doting on Isabel... Isabel leaves to marry (is she pregnant?) and returns a year later with twins... Charles was distraught, and took it out on the local women, raping... Isabel resides in the nursery, ignoring the twins... the housemaid & gardner (who 'raised' Charles & Isabel') attempt to raise the twins - Emmeline is quiet, sweet, perhaps not too smart... and Adeline is tough, stubborn, and regularly hurts Emmeline to get her way, uncommunicative, and psychotic...

Isabel is taken to an asylum, Charles won't come out of the nursery, mourning his sister... The girls are wild... and Vida (only a shadow) hides, spies, and is cared for by the gardner & housekeeper and not known to anyone else - and she looks like the twins... A governess is hired to care for the children... she imposes cleanliness & order, but gets swept away with the local doctor in trying to fix the twins... separating them for 3 months - and they're both miserable... the shadow tries to help, but she isn't the twin... they are finally reunited, the governess disappears, Charles is gone (he killed himself when he heard that Isabel died in the asylum)... and the shadow, Vida, steps in, allowing people to think she is Emmeline, and manipulates the solicitor to give them enough money, until Charles returns...

The gardner dies when he falls off a ladder in which the safety was unlatched (by Adeline)... the gardner's helper, now a young man, is attracted to Vida - who puts him off, and perhaps a little too coldly... so he turns to Emmeline, who is affectionate, and likes him, and knowing it would hurt Vida... when Emmeline is pregnant, Vida fires the gardner... and by not making a decision, the decision is made for Emmeline to have the baby without anyone knowing... and in the birthing, Emmeline is quite stoic, but it is Adeline who yells in pain...

And Adeline is jealous of the baby, and Vida watches... she moves cans of gasoline to the house, and Vida returns them to shed... until one night, she wakes up to see Adeline taking the baby into the library, and pulling logs out of the fireplace, and tearing books to make a pile of paper, and placing the baby ontop... and when she leaves, Vida takes the baby, wrapping a pillow in the blanket and leaving it instead... and she takes the baby to the abandoned church on the property and leaves it there, but before she gets back, there is an explosion... she rushes to see the library on fire, and Emmeline fighting (for the first time) with Adeline, obviously over her child... and Vida rushes in, and tries to pull Emmeline out, but when she realizes they are leaving Adeline she pulls away... Vida looses them in the smoke... and decides this is how she can get rid of Adeline... so she pulls Emmeline out again, and locks the door (burning her hand on the heated key)... and pulls her outside when the ceiling collapses... and she turns to Emmeline, who is blank faced (having lost her twin) and realizes she pulled Adeline out...

She decides to take the baby (Aurelius) to a neighboring women whom she has watched through her windows... and returns to the house... where the firemen, doctor, & townspeople take her as Adeline, & the other as Emmeline....

As the story unfolds, Margaret is struggling with her twin's ghost, with verifying information (meeting Aurelius, who at 50 is still trying to learn his story), tracking down the governess, and figuring out her own life.... and the woman and her two young children who cares for the deer on the property with the burned house (I have forgotten the house's name)... and she meets Adeline/Emmeline - invalid, withdrawn, hidden...

and the story ties up all loose ends... (just like the old books that Margaret loves & Vida wrote)... Vida & Emmeline/Adeline both die their natural deaths (but not until the story is complete)... Vida's last words are that she will take Margaret's message of love & need to her dead sister... and the sister visits her, bringing her peace... and the doctor who cared for Vida comes calling on Margaret, and approaches her just right... and she tells Aurelius his story and connects him with is halfsister (the young gardner's daughter) and his nephew & neice... and Margaret comes to accept her mother, and to fully appreciate her father...




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