It’s the first of the month, and time to discuss April’s selection in the Pink Fibro Book Club (a facebook book club hosted by Allison Tait).
Here are my thoughts on The Thirteenth Tale.
The Thirteenth Tale / Diane Setterfield
‘Tell me the truth.’ It is a simple request, but one that shakes the reclusive and enigmatic novelist, Vida Winter, to her very core. For has she not spent the past six decades writing fictional lives that have not only brought her fame and fortune but kept her violent and tragic past a secret? Now old and ailing, Vida Winter cannot escape her own history, no matter how many stories she weaves.
Wow. What a book. The Thirteenth Tale is not a book I would have picked up off the shelf myself. And that’s why I’m so glad I’m part of this book club. I enjoyed this book. A lot.
Margaret Lea lives in and around books, and has done so her entire life. She works in her father’s antiquarian bookshop, and prefers to read the classics – Austen, Bronte, Dickens – and so hasn’t read anything by the still alive Vida Winter. When she is contacted by Winter herself, and asked to write her biography, she seeks out her tales and becomes entranced. She agrees to write the biography, and travels to Winter’s house to do so.
She then gets lost in Winter’s world. As does the reader. Winter relates her story as if she’s writing one of her books, and while Lea does her own research and visits the places discussed, we mostly hear Winter’s story in the way she wants it told.
Setterfield obviously loves to tell stories. There is Winter’s story. There is Lea’s story. There are side stories, which give you little breathers from the intensity of Winter’s story (and are all related somehow). There are the tales from Winter’s books, and the references to (and inspiration drawn from) classic works of fiction.
It’s all done beautifully. I was lost in this book. There is overlap and mystery, and while some of the links are clear from the get-go, others will have you guessing until the end. And even those you think you have sorted will surprise you in other ways.
Little tip: pay attention to the pronouns. And to every little part of every little story in every little timeframe. I’d declare this a spoiler alert if I hadn’t received the same tip myself, then still had NO idea what was meant by it.
I usually share my favourite lines from the books that I review. But when I started The Thirteenth Tale, I had just read Cairo by Chris Womersley. Halfway through reading Cairo, I noticed that I’d already dog-eared no fewer than fifteen pages. I decided to stop singling out passages and just enjoy the book, and that decision carried through to this book as well.
Besides, many of my favourite lines came from the tales written by Winter, the books within the book. To include them here would be to rob you of the delight of reading them in context for yourself.
The Thirteenth Tale is fantastic. I highly recommend it. There are some confronting themes and equally confronting characters, but they’re necessary for the story. I’ll be seeking out other books by Setterfield, and wishing I could seek out Winter’s books while I’m at it.
Have you read The Thirteenth Tale? What did you think?
Previous book reviews:
The Shadow Year and Barracuda
The Paris Wife
Mister Pip and The Light Between Oceans
Big Brother and We Need to Talk About Kevin
The Shining Girls and The Fault in Our Stars