Lori's Reviews > The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
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's review
Aug 02, 09

Recommended to Lori by: Joan Allison

I'll borrow this review:

Zinta
11/17/07
Zinta rated it: 5 of 5 stars

Read in April, 2008
"Instantly, I was transported. By story as well as by its telling. Any book lover will know within the first sentence or two, more times than not, and so I knew: treasure. In Diane Setterfield's "The Thirteenth Tale," the reader does not have to choose between intruiging storyline and strong writing. The book is built on both. It has the flavor of old classics, and the comparisons with the Bronte sisters and Daphne du Maurier fit well. Yet Setterfield also manages to achieve her own signature.

Margaret Lea loves books more than people, and so the world of a quaint old bookshop of old leather tomes that one picks up only with gloved hands suits her just so. She lives in the world of words on paper, and she writes her own. An obscure biography she'd written becomes, then, what brings her out of the dusky shop and into the dusky world of Vida Winter. Vida Winter is a famed author, a reclusive artistic sort that the outside world can never quite capture. She won't let it. What interviews she does are all yet more storytelling, each one elaborately contradicting any other. Yet when life nears its end, even those who enjoy living in the secrecy of elaborate, however colorful, lies, come to long for truth at last. Vida Winter calls young Margaret to her home to tell her the truth.

Why Margaret? Something in her first written biography gives her away. Even when writing factually about others, after all, every honest writer will tell you - there is, deep inside the words, their own truth. Vida Winter knows that, and she senses in the young woman's work an understanding for the complexities of sibling relationships. Even, as chance would have it, and especially that of twins.

So the story unfolds, expertly, little by little and logically, building upon itself. Here is a twisted love, here is ugliness and beauty, here is human nature gone wild, and rivalry intertwined with lifelong bond. We find tragedy and adultery, banishment and reunion. All of this is revealed in Vida Winter's voice, even as she grows ever nearer "the wolf" in the shadows, death, that with waning patience awaits her. Alongside Winter's voice is the young biographer's, and we see the parallel lines and hear the echoes. Winter has indeed chosen correctly. If anyone will recognize the truth in the lies, this one will.

Expertly done. Setterfield holds firm to the end. Draw the blinds, start the fire, settle in for the read. "
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