Ori Fienberg's Reviews > The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
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's review
Jun 22, 2011

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bookshelves: good-yarns
Read in May, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale is a meta-book in the tradition of Atonement and Shadow of the Wind. Sadly, it doesn't really come close to matching the quality, either in writing or in story of either of those two books, however it's a solid page-turner with many twists.

The Thirteenth Tale uses a couple too many devices (italicized passages from letters and other characters' writing) to advance the story, but I think otherwise it's fairly well-plotted. Mystery novels tend to have two forms. In one, the reader is kept in the dark and the mysteries are solved primarily by epiphany and deus ex machina. The Thirteenth Tale demonstrates the type of mystery I prefer; if the reader is clever they can deduce aspects of the case while or before the detective of the novel. In the case of The Thirteenth Tale I never felt that the "twists" were cheap; there was always some precursor. And while I solved a couple of the mysteries, their were a few more that surprised me when they happened, but on review made perfect sense. The mystery of the novel is its best strength.

There are multiple conclusions in the Thirteenth Tale to deal with each storyline, and while I appreciate the plotting, most felt just a little too neatly tied off. I simply wasn't convinced by them. The lone exception being the conclusion of the title story, which felt utterly right.

Much of the Thirteenth Tale takes place in a Gothic setting and Margaret Lea is an avid reader of 19th century literature. I must admit that while I've read Jane Eyre (referenced many times in the story) and a couple of the other books she mentions, it's been some time, and I suspect that I missed a variety of allusions and homages that may well have lead to a greater appreciation of the book.

One other sidenote... The Thirteenth Tale is also a nicely designed book. I particularly like the marbling (is that the term for it? If you know a more proper term, please post a comment or send me a message) on the inside covers, as well as the "gold" stamped title and design on the spine.
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