The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – A Book Review

I’d heard good things about this book, and, after my mother insisted I read it, I finally gave in.  I’m happy to report that The Thirteenth Tale was indeed a fantastic read.

I must admit that I was a little skeptical at first.  A book about a culture’s greatest writer is dangerous ground, for what if the character of the greatest writer is badly written?  But, Setterfield pulled it off nicely.  Setterfield also blended well-written, formal language with believable dialogue in such a way that it was very pleasant to read.  In fact, she straddled the line between good description and over-indulgence to the point I was afraid she would teeter over the edge, losing me forever, but she kept her imagery pertinent and never veered off into ramblings.  Her myriad allusions, thorough characterization, and complicated, rewarding plot made The Thirteenth Tale a fast, enjoyable experience.

The story itself has the makings of a classic.  Vida Winter, England’s greatest writer, is about to die from natural causes and she wants her story taken down by an amateur biographer, Margaret Lea.  A mystery soon emerges as Lea listens to Winter’s tale and she must piece together a tapestry that discerns fact from fiction.  A tale of incest, fire, death, ghosts, and trickery ensues, all while Lea is struggling with her own inner demons.

Personally, I found the climax and resolution rewarding and consistent with the rest of the book.  Some feel that Setterfield left things too ambiguous, but I think the reader must take an active part in the story and make up his or her own mind.  I don’t mind a little elusiveness in a story such as this.  I especially appreciated that many details Setterfield included early on in the novel played an important role as the mystery unveiled.

I think you’ll find The Thirteenth Tale both a well-crafted novel by a capable author and a flat-out exciting story.  Enjoy.

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