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Joanne Sheppard (England)
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Wolf in White Van
Wolf in White Van
Price: £6.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional debut, 19 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Wolf in White Van (Kindle Edition)
Wolf In White Van is John Darnielle's first novel, and those who know his music will certainly notice recurring themes and motifs in the book that crop up repeatedly in his lyrics. Misunderstood, teenagers drifting through comic shops and amusement arcades in soulless, rundown American towns, depression, awkward family relationships and a tendency to retreat into a world of fantasy are all elements of Wolf In White Van that Mountain Goats fans will recognise, and as usual, Darnielle writes about them with remarkable poignancy and clarity.

Don't, however, imagine that you need to know Darnielle's music to enjoy this book. It's an exceptional piece of work by any standards.

Wolf In White Van is an introspective, reflective novel narrated by Sean, a young man whose face has been partially destroyed by an 'accident' at the age of 17. Sean makes his living through what is essentially a role-playing game by correspondence that he devised during his recovery. Called Trace Italian and set in a post-apocalyptic America, it's played by the readers of comic books and science-fiction magazines who pay a subscription fee and receive each step in the game by post, mailing their choices for the next move back to Sean in attempt to reach the game's ultimate goal, a secretly-located safe haven for survivors.

As the story gradually unfolds, we learn not only of an alienated teenage couple whose intense obsession with Trace Italian (and with each other) has resulted in tragedy, but also of the days leading up to the horrific event that left Sean disabled and severely disfigured.

There is a great deal of beauty in Wolf In White Van. Darnielle's prose is outstanding, and there are whole passages that read to me like an extended prose-poem. His ability to pick out mundane details and turn them into something of an incredibly evocative, sometimes tragic significance is nothing short of remarkable. There is also such a desperate, vividly-realised sadness to parts this book that at times I found it almost painful to read (and rightly so - this is no criticism on my part).

A short but digressive novel, Wolf In White Van doesn't really leave its protagonist in any different state, mentally or physically, than the one in which he starts his story, and at the end, I was left wanting something more afterwards to bring the story to a neater finish. However, this by no means a plot-driven novel and it can't be denied that the ending is a powerful one, however uncomfortable it was for me to read: I can admire Darnielle's decision to leave the story there rather than pandering to any desire for a more reassuring conclusion.


Perfect People
Perfect People
Price: £3.59

2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing new, 6 Oct 2014
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Peter James is an impressively prolific bestselling thriller writer, of whose books I had before now read precisely none. I picked up Perfect People at a low-price book sale along with various other thrillers this summer because I was keen to know what Peter James does that sells so well, and because I was interested in the subject matter: a couple who agrees to have a genetically engineered son to avoid losing another child to the hereditary disease that killed their first baby, Halley, at the age of four.

Perfect People brings to mind of those high-concept, borderline sci-fi thrillers that were popular in the 1970s – think Ira Levin’s The Boys From Brazil or The Stepford Wives. As such, despite its contemporary themes of ‘designer babies’ and elements involving a religious fundamentalist terrorist organisation, there is something about it that feels oddly dated. This isn’t helped by the slightly Bond-villainish character of Dr Dettore, the geneticist who convinces John and Naomi Klaesson to agree to have a child with favourably tweaked genes. To avoid having to conform to US or European law, his clinic is located at sea on board a mysterious cruise liner, and there are chapters set on a mysterious island that can’t be located on a map. For the duration of the book, I rather felt as if I was reading a novelisation of a film, and not a recent one at that.

Perfect People's plot certainly does make you want to plough on quickly to end, despite the enormous suspension of disbelief required. I did keep turning the pages, despite my misgivings about elements of the story and frequent irritation at the writing style (heavy on the telling, light on the showing, and peppered with mundane exposition).

I don’t, however, think the story that will stay with me, and I felt none of the chills or unease that the ‘perfect people’ of the title should have conjured up. John and Naomi’s designer children (apologies if you consider this a spoiler, but the fact that there are two of them is already annoyingly revealed by the book’s own cover art) are obviously not like other toddlers, but their 'otherness' is all cliché: the idea of the cold, insular, unnaturally academic, freakishly beautiful and potentially psychic blonde child is a familiar one from The Bad Seed or The Midwich Cuckoos. They may be called ‘New People’ in certain quarters, but there’s nothing really new about them from the reader’s point of view.

Moreover, the relationship between parent and child here is infuriatingly inconsistent – neither parent is really shown to bond with their children as such, and Naomi in particular behaves as if she actively dislikes or even fears them, but suddenly when required for the purposes of the plot, they suddenly begin to behave completely differently towards them. I fully understand that the parent-child relationship is a complex one, but I don’t find the sudden turnaround in Naomi’s maternal instincts particularly credible. Other inconsistencies include the claim that the ‘new people’ abhor violence, which seems deeply out-of-kilter with the children’s ability to butcher their own pets or inspire outright terror in the other toddlers at their playgroup.

A bit of a wasted opportunity, this one. Plenty of potential, but just felt careless in the execution, as if the author was taking a paint-by-numbers approach to fiction.


Pretty Honest: The Straight-Talking Beauty Companion
Pretty Honest: The Straight-Talking Beauty Companion
Price: £9.15

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty advice with warmth and wit, 3 Oct 2014
Most beauty books I’ve come across have been huge coffee-table affairs full of glossy photographs of iconic or avant-garde makeup looks. That’s all well and good, and I enjoy looking at those books as much as the next beauty obsessive, but there’s little in them that makes entertaining reading (rather than looking) and their ideas are fascinating but rarely attainable.

Sali Hughes’ Pretty Honest is a different kind of beauty book. Pleasingly chunky and compact, and printed on discreetly sleek matte paper, it’s more words than pictures, and it’s essentially a comprehensive collection of immensely readable essays on real beauty for real women. Pretty Honest recognises that beauty encompasses doing your makeup on the bus, covering troublesome zits, going mental with Barry M glitter when you’re 13, sprucing up your face for the (misnamed, as Sali rightly points out) walk of shame and looking like yourself again after giving birth, having chemo or recovering from a serious illness.

There is far too much writing out there that makes beauty seem complicated: this book cuts the crap and reminds us with refreshing frankness that it really needn’t be. You can apply your nail polish while shouting at Question Time and eating crisps; you can wear as much red lipstick as you want because frankly, why the hell wouldn’t you? Pretty Honest is a welcome reminder that beauty is fun and should be a treat, not a chore.

There are loads of recommendations for looks, techniques, routines and products, plus welcome dismissals of beauty myths and pointless products – you can forget your restrictive ‘colour rules’ and bin your bust gel, for a start. But aside from the wealth of practical advice, what really makes Pretty Honest stand out is its enthusiastic celebration and robust defence of beauty itself, and the women who love it.

Sali Hughes is very clear on the difference between beauty and the beauty industry, and I wholeheartedly agree that you can be passionate about the former without being uncritical of the latter. Anyone who has ever dared to stray into the reader comments on beauty articles on any newspaper’s website will be familiar with the criticisms that women (and sadly, it is almost always only women) face for expressing an interest in makeup or skincare. We’re shallow, we’re vain, we’re not spending enough time thinking about Syria and world famine, we’re being duped by advertising, we’re trying to ensnare men who prefer us without makeup anyway, we only need makeup because we’re not beautiful in the first place, we’re not Proper Feminists. All this is, of course, a pile of old guff, and Sali does a fine job of arguing against it. Pretty Honest is a book that celebrates choice, individuality and creativity with beauty, and recognises that women who love beauty – shock, horror – think about other things as well.

The book’s analysis of what beauty can mean to women is also astute. Too many beauty writers talk to women as if makeup and skincare is something we should buy into because there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way we look without it, or because it’s the done thing to look a certain way. Sali Hughes simply doesn’t do this – she recognises that most of us simply want a face to fit the day’s mood or mindset, to look like ourselves at our best, to spend a few minutes doing something creative every morning in way that helps us feel confident and in control.

I should probably point out that I wore makeup to have my gallbladder removed,* so obviously I’m someone who fully embraces beauty as an integral part of my daily life: my complete makeup collection fills six large washbags and that’s without skincare. I don’t, however, think you need to be anywhere near as into beauty as I am to enjoy this book – it would be a great read for anyone who likes the idea of makeup and skincare but doesn’t really know where to start or feels stuck in a rut, whether they’re a teenager or a grandmother.

Beauty obsessives like me will love the whole ethos of this book, no question – but the sheer warmth, wit and enthusiasm of Pretty Honest, together with the no-nonsense clarity of its advice, makes it a brilliantly unintimidating, friendly read for the beauty novice too. Unless you are one of those people who thinks they deserve some kind of medal for undertaking all personal grooming with Swarfega, vinegar and a J-cloth, this is a book I'd highly recommend.


Daughter
Daughter
Price: £1.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Daughter by Jane Shemilt, 30 Sep 2014
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Daughter by Jane Shemilt centres on the disappearance of a 15-year-old girl, Naomi, from the kind of middle-class, well-off family that has a cleaner and a holiday cottage. It's Naomi's mother Jenny who tells the story of the events leading up to Naomi's failure to come home one night after her appearance in a school play, and of the aftermath of her - what? Abduction? Murder? Or has Naomi simply run away?

The general message of Daughter is that we don't always know our families - particularly our teenage children - as well as we think we do. Fresh-faced, chatty Naomi, who doesn't like the taste of alcohol, never smokes and rarely wears makeup, is soon revealed by the investigation into her disappearance to have been concealing no end of secrets from her mother, and this seems almost as painful for Jenny as the fact that she has gone missing. Moreover, Naomi's twin older brothers, Ed and Theo, seem to be hiding a few secrets of their own - and what of Ted, her neurosurgeon father?

Unfortunately, despite an engaging mystery plot, much of the book simply doesn't ring particularly true. It's not hard to believe that a teenage girl might have a secret boyfriend (or two) but I don't find it remotely plausible that, upon spending a day with such a boyfriend at her family's holiday cottage without her parents' knowledge, she'd be daft enough to leave stained sheets and half-empty wine-glasses behind in the bedroom for them to find. Nor do I think it plausible that a sixth-former would submit a naked photo of his underage sister for his school art project without his sister, teacher or mother having any kind of problem with this. And there are other elements to the story that I found just as irksomely unlikely - the ending, for example, not to mention the last few chapters building up to it.

I'm afraid I also felt it hard to care much about naive, mildly snobbish Jenny and her relationship with her characterless husband Ted. Both the couple and their marriage are somewhat dull, and their children are somewhat reminiscent of Julie Myerson's appalling brood in the now defunct Guardian column Living With Teenagers - rude, sullen, spoilt and in need of a sharp clip round the ear.

It's also infuriating that it's implied several times - not just by the characters, but by the narrative overall - that Jenny's failure to notice her children's multiple problems is down to her dedication to her career as a busy GP, leaving her with too little time to devote to her offspring. Apparently nobody (except, once or twice, Jenny herself) has an issue with Ted's equally demanding job, needless to say.

Overall, while the cleverly structured plot did keep me turning the pages, this wasn't the gripping read I'd hoped it would be, failing on matters of character development and plausibility throughout.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 10, 2014 10:08 AM BST


Poppet: Jack Caffery series 6
Poppet: Jack Caffery series 6
Price: £3.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Poppet by Mo Hayder, 30 Sep 2014
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I should probably come clean at the start of this review and admit that I bought Poppet almost solely because it had a creepy cover and was set in a high security mental institution, so that gives you some idea of the level of discernment I applied to this purchase. However, despite a somewhat ludicrous plot and some annoyingly clunky prose, Poppet was nothing if not an entertaining, dark and occasionally gruesome read. Great literature this is not, but a great read for a plane journey it absolutely is - I'd give it 3.5 stars if Amazon allowed it.

Poppet is the sixth novel in Mo Hayder's Jack Caffery series. I haven't read the previous five, and perhaps I would have got more of a sense of Caffery's character if I had. From this novel alone, I felt that he was pretty much a standard maverick loner detective type without a great deal to distinguish him - however, this honestly didn't matter a great deal as much of the action happens from the points of other characters, primarily AJ, a senior psychiatric nurse dealing with an outbreak of self-harm incidents among patients at his place of work. AJ doesn't believe in The Maude, an evil presence rumoured to haunt Beechway, but it's obvious that something or someone is unsettling the inmates in the most terrifying of ways, and with Caffery's help, he's determined to discover what it is.

Although Caffery is a police officer, this isn't really a police procedural crime novel - most of Caffery's activities in the book take place outside his police remit, in fact. It's a gripping suspense mystery with strong elements of horror and of the psychological thriller genre - a sort of gritty, grimy version of modern gothic, perhaps. There was a great deal in the story that I didn't see coming, and the scenes in the psychiatric hospital conjure up a strong sense of atmosphere that works extremely well. The 'poppets' of the novel's title are a stroke of sinister genius, as is the case history of Isaac Handel, a recently discharged patient with a shocking past.

Less effective is the building of the relationship between AJ and his colleague Melanie, whose romance has a tendency to descend into cringe-inducing territory - and I was unconvinced by a subplot involving Caffery's investigation into the disappearance of a minor celebrity, Misty Kitson, who is almost certainly dead yet whose body has yet to be recovered. I must concede that it may have made more sense to me if I'd read the previous books in the Caffery series and better understood his history with Flea, a police diver connected with the Kitson case, but as it was, it seemed an unwelcome digression from the events at the psychiatric hospital.

There are some tiresome cliches and stereotypes in Poppet - I was itching to edit at times - but as an over-the-top horror/crime hybrid, it works extremely well, and I'd consider reading another in the series.


The Paying Guests
The Paying Guests
Price: £9.95

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, 22 Sep 2014
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I think it's fair to describe The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters' first novel since 2009's The Little Stranger, as 'eagerly awaited', judging from the level of excitement I've witnessed on social media and in the mainstream press. It's hard for that degree of anticipation to end in anything but anticlimax, but I'm delighted to say that The Paying Guests lived up to my expectations.

Set in the 1920s, it begins with Frances Wray and her mother opening the top floor of their house to lodgers - the paying guests of the title. A young married couple, Mr and Mrs Barber are below the Wrays on the class ladder but unlike the Wrays, have a discernible income which enables them to rent what is effectively an apartment. Their presence not only opens up an analysis of post-WW1 shifts in affluence and status and paints a dingy portrait of an uncomfortable marriage, but also sets in motion a chain of events that will come to turn the lives of the Wrays and the Barbers upside-down.

Part love story, part social commentary and part crime thriller, The Paying Guests has all the hallmarks you'd expect of a Waters novel: pin-sharp historical details, almost uncannily vivid characters and an account of a love affair between two women, the portrayal of which often painful in its emotional honesty, even when the two women are being far from honest with one another.

I've seen some reviews alluding to slow progress in the first half of the novel, and yes, this section of the book is considerably more halting in its pace than the second half, which deals with the aftermath of a crime and becomes, at times, extremely tense. But it's at the beginning of the book, that the love story develops and we build a clear picture of the characters, which is essential to the success of the rest of the novel and, in any case, is beautifully written. The pace felt entirely appropriate to me, and kept me turning the pages throughout, regardless of plot.


Sisterland
Sisterland
Price: £3.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld, 15 Sep 2014
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A few years ago I read Sittenfeld's excruciatingly well-observed, frustrating coming-of-age novel Prep, about a girl who begs her parents to send her to a New England boarding school only to realise that she can never fit in - or admit that she has made a terrible mistake.

Sisterland revisits some of these themes, and like Prep, it has a narrator painfully ill at ease with herself - so much so that she has even changed her name from Daisy to Kate to distance herself from her childhood and from Violet, her twin sister. Daisy and Violet are, to a degree, misfits purely by virtue of being twins, but to make matters worse they are also psychic, prone to 'senses' about people, places and future events.

Whereas Violet is apparently happy to play the role of eccentric oddball, Daisy only reveals her talent when it seems it can help her make friends with the popular set - and needless to say, this backfires on her. As an adult, having reinvented herself as a housewife and mother to two pre-school children, Kate is every bit as embarrassed by Violet as she ever was - yet equally, also as inextricably linked to her despite their frequent rows. When Violet goes on public record as having predicted a major earthquake in the twins' home city of St Louis, Kate's past becomes not just an awkward shame but a threat to her family life, friendships and marriage.

In Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld gave us a narrator who was frequently selfish, hard to like and frustratingly poor at making decisions, and this carries through to Sisterland. There are times when Kate's feelings towards her chaotic, free-spirited sister seem painfully judgemental, particularly with regards to her weight and sexuality, and yet there are also times when Violet is such an infuriatingly selfish and disruptive influence that we can easily see why Kate would want to distance herself from her. It's also hard to sympathise with Kate when she jeopardises her marriage in the most of foolish of ways, but she at least partially redeems herself when she deals with the fallout from this in a steadfastly determined and courageous way.
poor at making decisions - yet still somehow made the reader sympathise with her. She pulls off a similar feat in

While the twins' psychic abilities are central to Sisterland's plot, this isn't really a book about ESP. It's a domestic drama of families, relationships, guilt and coming to terms with the past. The relationship between Kate and Violet is fascinating - are they really such very different people, or have they consciously chosen to push different aspects of their personalities to the fore? Also interesting - so much so that I'd have liked to have seen more of it - is Kate's relationship with her emotionally inept father, who despite being the sort of parent who buys his daughters low-value Starbucks gift cards for Christmas, is still responsible for some low-key, off-hand revelations that suggest there is more to him than meets the eye, if only his daughters had looked beyond the surface.

This is more a novel of character than of plot; the latter, it has to be said, is not really the focal point of the book and is occasionally disappointing. Overall, though, the small-scale events of Sisterland set against the looming threat of a possible large-scale catastrophe make for a fascinating family drama.


Little Friends Rabbit Cage, 60 cm
Little Friends Rabbit Cage, 60 cm
Price: £29.99

1.0 out of 5 stars This cage is totally unsuitable for any rabbit. It's ..., 19 Aug 2014
This cage is totally unsuitable for any rabbit. It's FAR too small even the smallest of rabbit breeds and it doesn't have a covered area where the rabbit can go for privacy.


The Magus of Hay (MERRILY WATKINS SERIES Book 9)
The Magus of Hay (MERRILY WATKINS SERIES Book 9)
Price: £2.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A decent read, but doesn't measure up to the rest of the series, 10 Aug 2014
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I've read all eleven of the previous books in this series over the past fifteen or so years, which is an obvious indication of how much I've enjoyed them. They feature an ever-expanding cast of recurring characters, including Merrily daughter Jane, local musician Lol Robinson, West Mercia Police officer DI Francis Bliss, and many more. Rickman has a gift for cliffhanger chapter endings and also for capturing a strong sense of place - the books are as much about the psychogeography of the English-Welsh border country as anything else. The supernatural elements are cleverly woven into the crime plots, and are chilling without pulling the novels into actual horror or fantasy territory. All in all, a great series if you're looking for easy but involving page-turners with plenty of atmosphere. I often save the latest Merrily Watkins for my summer holiday - they're very much that kind of book for me.

Now I've said all that, I'm going to be honest and say that this latest instalment in the series disappointed me. Two of the major characters from the previous books are almost entirely absent, and although Merrily is obviously heavily featured, she doesn't play an awfully central role in the plot. She's part of the story, but rarely, if ever, the driver for it. Instead, that task falls to DI Bliss (who seems to have more pages to himself in each new book) and to Betty and Robin Thorogood, a pagan couple who also first came to our attention in A Crown of Lights.

While I find Frannie Bliss an engaging lead, there is something lacking for me in Robin and Betty - particularly Robin, an American artist best known for designing fantasy book covers who has decided to rebuild his life with Betty by opening a pagan bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. I don't find him to be a sufficiently well-rounded character to carry a novel to this extent, and his combination of outward brash bluster and inward anxious angst quickly becomes tiresome.

I enjoyed Hay-on-Wye, a town I know relatively well, being the primary setting for the action, and as always, Rickman captures every location perfectly. The book even comes complete with 'off-camera' appearances by Richard Booth, the self-styled King of Hay who played a major role in reinventing the town as a haven for book-lovers and an isolated hub of independence from corporate developers and chain stores. The uniqueness of Hay and the question of whether or not it can continue to sustain itself is discussed intelligently throughout, and plays an important part in the story.

However, the actual nuts and bolts of the main plot didn't seem particularly fulfilling to me. I didn't get the usual chilling fascination from the supernatural or occult elements in Rickman's other works, and nor did the progress of the investigation really gel. I found the lengthy conversations about the particular type of occultism that features in this book a little dull, if anything - this is a reaction I've never experienced when reading the previous Merrily Watkins books.

It's certainly fair to say that my expectations were high, so I may be judging it more harshly than some would, but this was the only Merrily Watkins book I had to remind myself to keep reading so that I could finish it. There were great elements to it, and I still got plenty of enjoyment from it, but there just seemed to be a lot missing.

There is a minor sub-plot involving a prim headmistress apparently haunted by the ghost of her partner, and the gay vicar who covers Merrily's parish responsibilities during her week's holiday: I actually found this far more interesting than the main mystery, and would happily have read a whole novel devoted to it.

I got the feeling from The Magus of Hay and its predecessor The Secrets of Pain that Phil Rickman might be trying to change the direction of the series to make it less Merrily-centric and focus less on her and her relationships. I may have this completely wrong, of course - I hope I do, because it's not just Merrily but also the people around her (including Jane and Lol) who form the glue that holds these books together.


The Thirteenth Tale
The Thirteenth Tale
Price: £5.49

5.0 out of 5 stars The Thirteenth Tale, 3 Aug 2014
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You may have seen the BBC2 adaptation of The Thirteenth Tale that was shown shortly after Christmas, starring Olivia Colman and Vanessa Redgrave. If you did, you'll know it was excellent, but if you didn't, read the book instead because, as usual, the book is even better.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is, as the title suggests, a story about stories. It's also a story about twins, and loss, and loneliness, and the gradual decline of the upper classes in the early 20th century, and all manner of other things. It's not so much a mystery as a seemingly limitless number of mysteries: the plot, and indeed the characters, are packed with intrigue.

The book begins with Margaret Lea, a bookseller who has written a few obscure biographies of lesser-known Victorian authors, being commissioned to write the life story of Vida Winter, an immensely successful but notoriously private author known for telling capricious fibs to anyone who interviews her. Miss Winter is a prickly character - and not an easy one for either the reader or Margaret to like from the outset - but is prepared to reveal that she was born Adeline March, twin sister of Emmeline March, into a frighteningly dysfunctional family, all of whom appear to suffer from varying degrees of mental illness. Left almost entirely to their own devices with only the occasional intervention of the family's last remaining servants, housekeeper The Missus and gardener John-the-dig, the twins are entirely isolated from other children, speaking their own secret language and distinguishable from one another only by their differing personalities: Adeline is prone to violent outbursts, while Emmeline is gentle and good-natured.

All Margaret knows at the start of Miss Winter's story is that Angelfield, the house in which the twins grew up, was destroyed in a fire when they were 17, and Miss Winter's narrative almost immediately begins to raise more questions than it answers. Who is the twins' father? Why did their uncle disappear one day and never return? Why does the twins' otherwise ultra-rational governess imagine that Angelfield is haunted?

There are all manner of clues littered throughout this rambling, modern-gothic narrative, but this is much more than just a clever mystery with elements of psychological thriller. The Thirteenth Tale also explores loss, identity and the desperate need we all have to tell stories, as if the very act of storytelling in itself can be cathartic and reconciling.

Margaret, struggling with her own unresolved guilt and repressed bereavement after a tragedy that occurred shortly after her birth, seems able to relate to others only through the medium of books - and she admits that she prefers the novels of the 18th and 19th centuries to contemporary fiction because she prefers 'proper endings'. Her determination to find such endings for the characters in Miss Winter's story - and Margaret's own - means that The Thirteenth Tale does have, in some ways, the atmosphere of a 19th century novel, and there are recurring references throughout to Jane Eyre. However, it was really Wuthering Heights that kept springing to mind as I read this book, with its lonely, crumbling house, destructive, obsessive relationships and the recurring repercussions of each generation's actions for the next.

This is a novel that's far from concise, and like its Victorian predecessors, it doesn't always maintain a speedy pace. Despite this I never felt I was reading wasted words. Every detail contributes something, whether a practical clue to the mysteries of the plot or a psychological insight. Yes, it's convoluted and yes, a couple of the twists require some suspension of disbelief, but it's remarkably sensitively written, with a genuine sympathy for even the most unhinged of characters - almost all of them have experienced a loss of one kind or another that has left them feeling less than whole, and Diane Setterfield evokes this sense of incompleteness with considerable skill. The Thirteenth Tale could easily have become an overblown, sensationalist potboiler in the hands of a lesser author, but Setterfield has managed to strike the perfect balance between a gripping plot full of surprises and an astute, sometimes heartbreaking analysis of what it means to live with what feels like a part of oneself missing.

Oh, and yes, it does have very much what Margaret would call a 'proper ending'.


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