Whitaker's Reviews > The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
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Dec 28, 2009

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bookshelves: contemporary-fiction, e-book, z_2009-read
Read in December, 2009

Dear Diary, today I heard the most wonderful story. We were at Diane Setterfield's place having tea, when she started telling us of this strange tale she had heard from her friend, Margaret Lea. Ms Lea had recently interviewed that celebrated authoress, Vida Winter. What a shiver of excitement we felt when we heard that! We've all read Ms Winter's books and to hear her story... we couldn't contain our excitement.

Well, my dearest and most private friend, you'll be pleased to know that Ms Lea's tale was just like those lovely romance stories by Dickens or the Brönte sisters. Oh, there were lost orphans, hidden madwomen, sudden losses, and most wonderful of all, Love. Love of the purest, most platonic sort. The sort that elevates us. I'm sure you'll approve dearest friend. It's the love of books and reading. You can imagine how our hearts fluttered at hearing this.

She spoke of the "smell of old books, so sharp, so dry you can taste it", of how a book can seize hold of you and you drown in its embrace. It plunges deep into you and suddenly you realize it's morning and the whole night has been a breathless, palpitating Joy.

There was a description by Ms Lea so beautiful that on hearing it I inscribed it in my heart. I hope you will forgive me dear diary if I set it out here:

I read old novels. The reason is simple: I prefer proper endings. Marriages and deaths, noble sacrifices and miraculous restorations, tragic separations and unhoped-for reunions, great falls and dreams fulfilled; these, in my view, constitute an ending worth the wait. They should come after adventures, perils, dangers and dilemmas, and wind everything up nice and neatly. Endings like this are to be found more commonly in old novels than new ones, so I read old novels.

Contemporary literature is a world I know little of. My father had taken me to task on this topic many times during our daily talks about books. He reads as much as I do, but more widely, and I have great respect for his opinions. He has described in precise, measured words the beautiful desolation he feels at the close of novels where the message is that there is no end to human suffering, only endurance. He has spoken of endings that are muted, but which echo longer in the memory than louder, more explosive denouements. He has explained why it is that ambiguity touches his heart more nearly than the death and marriage style of finish that I prefer.

During these talks, I listen with the gravest attention and nod my head, but I always end up continuing in my old habits. Not that he blames me for it. There is one thing on which we are agreed: There are too many books in the world to read in a single lifetime; you have to draw the line somewhere.

And now, dearest and most trusted confidant of my privatest thoughts, you must excuse me while I retire to my bed. Until tomorrow, ma cherie, adieu. Groses bises!

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03/31/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6)




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message 6: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 11, 2010 11:36AM) (new)

Hahaha! I enjoyed this immensely, partially because I loved this book both despite and because of how hot-house it is. This book is completely overdone and dramatic, in this noiseless way. Kudos!


Rosana Whitaker, I really enjoyed your review. It made me think that I should re-read this book, with an open mind. I enjoyed the passage you quoted too. I didn’t remember reading it, which probably means that I was not paying as much attention as I should had. You did make me re-think my own review...


Whitaker Capitu wrote: "Whitaker, I really enjoyed your review. It made me think that I should re-read this book, with an open mind. I enjoyed the passage you quoted too. I didn’t remember reading it, which probably me..."

Gosh, thanks! That's probably the ultimate compliment for a review. Hugz! :-D


Connie So when is your book coming out?


message 2: by Ian (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye Beautiful, Whit.


Whitaker Ian wrote: "Beautiful, Whit."

Thanks, Ian. I need to get back to reading more again. It's been slow this year.


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