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149 of 162 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Tale
This is, quite simply, a rattling good yarn and that is not meant to sound derogatory in any way. One of those unputdownable books that take the reader over from the first page and leave you feeling bereft at the end. The story has everything, twins, a governess, house on a remote moor, a governess, warring siblings, abandoned baby, a fire - from this, it is clear to...
Published on 6 Aug 2006 by Elaine Simpson-long

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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Thirteenth Tale
Margaret Lea lives a quiet existence selling antique books with her father and writing the occasional biography to bring in a few extra pounds. Her literary tastes tend towards the obscure, dusty tomes that are often left behind on the shelves of their shop, and she has never read anything by the infamous bestselling contemporary novelist Vida Winter. Even though she...
Published 17 months ago by Marie


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149 of 162 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Tale, 6 Aug 2006
By 
Elaine Simpson-long (Colchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Thirteenth Tale (Hardcover)
This is, quite simply, a rattling good yarn and that is not meant to sound derogatory in any way. One of those unputdownable books that take the reader over from the first page and leave you feeling bereft at the end. The story has everything, twins, a governess, house on a remote moor, a governess, warring siblings, abandoned baby, a fire - from this, it is clear to see that the author loves Jane Eyre (in fact quotes and references to this book abound) and, in the general decay and characteristics of its inmates, we are forcibly reminded of Wuthering Heights. There is a sneaky reference to Henry James The Turn of the Screw that sets your thoughts off at another tangent, and, in case you think this sounds all too gloomy and gothic, there are descriptions of the grounds and the gardener that make you think of The Secret Garden.

So, a terrific read and I defy anybody buying this book not to be plunged into its world and to love it as much as I have done. It is going to be HUGE
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46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant debut, 14 Oct 2006
By 
Mark Wakely (Lombard, Illinois) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Thirteenth Tale (Hardcover)
When a first novel is immediately (and enthusiastically) compared to the works of such literary luminaries as the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, a large dose of skepticism is in order. I read this book with a jaundiced eye, expecting to eventually uncover at least one unconvincing character, a plot twist that failed to surprise, or a passage less than vivid, unworthy of the masters.

I did not.

Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale carries the reader along like a turbulent river, with unexpected eddies and undertows you can't escape. The characters are absolutely true to the worlds of Dickens and Austen, but they're originals, not derivatives. They grieve and you do, they rejoice and you do, they die and you do- almost. The whole atmosphere of the book is powerful and sweeping, in the manner of Henry James or even Joseph Conrad. (Well, minus all those ships, of course.) If I had to pick one story that gave the same overall effect as Setterfield's book, I'd pick The Turn of the Screw, since the ghost element in Setterfield's book is equally shocking and unique, although James's classic novella lacks the grand span and scope of The Thirteenth Tale. Then again, Setterfield's characters could just as easily find a home in Dickens' dangerous London squalor or in the halls of a Bronte mansion, the air thick with secrets and heavy with troubled specters anxious to make themselves known.

Intriguing, daring and even downright heart pounding at times, The Thirteenth Tale might well give you nightmares at the end, but they'll be the best- and most original- nightmares you've ever had.

-Mark Wakely, author of An Audience for Einstein
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and Gripping, 9 Aug 2013
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This review is from: The Thirteenth Tale (Paperback)
This is her debut novel? I finished it and was left exhausted and crying. She conjures spells with her words like a sorceress. Absolutely one of the best books I have ever read. I turned to my husband and said 'The BBC now need to get this and do an adaptation and show it over Xmas.' And what do you know? They are! Well done BBC. And well done Diane. Compelling.
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53 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mythic, beguiling and as rich as one of Aurelius' cakes!, 13 Feb 2007
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This review is from: The Thirteenth Tale (Hardcover)
Setterfield mixes a hefty dose of 'Jane Eyre', sifts in a fair helping of 'Turn of The Screw', adds some Alain Fournier, a bit of atmosphere from 'Bleak House', deft touches from 'Rebecca' and a whisk of Angela Carter, and manages to serve up this tempting collation which is all itself, and I'm sure will have readers of future bookes by other authors saying 'this has touches of Setterfield'

Not being one who likes to read (or write) reviews which 'tell the story' - if you've read the book, you know the story anyway, and if you haven't - well, read the book itself, not the plot summary which might spoil the surprise of the book in store - I can only say that if the brooding, unreal yet real, almost dream landscape of the authors mentioned above delight you and left you longing for a similar fix, try Setterfield.

This is a beautiful, slow, poignant piece of writing and double journey - both the narrator's and her storyteller's.

Though the twists and turns of the plot were ahead of me every step of the way - and yet so RIGHT when they arrived, I actually found myself prepared to wait, and savour the smallness of each moment, rather than going faster and faster because I couldn't wait to find out 'what happened next'

To manage that juggle is splendid indeed.

My only disappointment is (and it's a big one......this is a FIRST novel, so I can't go rushing off to the pleasure of her previous canon of works. Damn, damn, damn.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Thirteenth Tale, 16 Feb 2013
By 
Marie (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Thirteenth Tale (Paperback)
Margaret Lea lives a quiet existence selling antique books with her father and writing the occasional biography to bring in a few extra pounds. Her literary tastes tend towards the obscure, dusty tomes that are often left behind on the shelves of their shop, and she has never read anything by the infamous bestselling contemporary novelist Vida Winter. Even though she isn't a fan, she has of course heard lots about the reclusive Miss Winter who is best known for her collection Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation - a source of much speculation in literary circles as it contains only twelve stories. So Margaret is surprised to say the least when Miss Winter contacts her to say that she is ready to tell the world her life story and wants Margaret to be the biographer. It seems that the thirteenth tale might be her own.

I really enjoyed the first half of the book and got well and truly swept away in the story of Vida Winter's unruly childhood growing up with her disordered family in a crumbling manor house. Fair enough, at times it borders on cliché and borrows heavily (SO heavily!) from Gothic classics such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I started playing a sort of game with myself where every time a ubiquitous Gothic image was mentioned I'd check it off on a list in my head. Decaying manor house? Check. Unhinged but beautiful young woman sent to asylum? Check. Creepy twins? Check. Wandering on the moors in bad weather? Bingo! There's even more that I can't mention for fear of spoilers, but you get the picture. But despite the extent to which Setterfield has tried to emulate her literary heroes, it is done in a gripping and intriguing way and I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next. It kept me awake late at night, hanging on to read 'just one more chapter'.

I was so disappointed, then, to find myself completely losing interest towards the end. What happened?! Margaret is kind of an insipid protagonist and there is nothing much about her either to like or dislike. She has a few issues of her own going on in life and in the parts of the book where we find her moping around and mulling over her own troubles I was impatient to get back to the main story. And then as time went on I stopped caring as much what happened in the main plot, too. Overall I think the whole thing probably went on just a bit too long for my liking.

It's a shame that the feeling I had on starting this book didn't hold out. Maybe it would have been different had it been 100 or so pages shorter, because I felt it had the potential to be a really enjoyable and engrossing Gothic tale but lost its way a little towards the end.
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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping Gothic tale, 10 Dec 2006
By 
kehs (Hertfordshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Thirteenth Tale (Hardcover)
An amazing book about books. I loved all the characters and the story drew me in from the very first page. It's about Margaret whose father owns a bookshop. She is writing a biography for Vida winter, who is a reclusive author and has one final secret she needs to tell. As Margaret learns more about Vida's life she finds herself confronting the ghosts from her own past.

Dianne Settlefield's writing style was so masterful it was as if she was reading aloud to me . I kept feeling as if I knew where the story was heading but then it would take another turn and I would realise I wasn't quite right. I loved the twist towards the end of the book and the last few pages were unexpectedly moving. This is a captivating gothic tale that I just could not put down and I know I will re-read it time and again.
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42 of 51 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A pastiche that tries too hard, 2 Dec 2006
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This review is from: The Thirteenth Tale (Hardcover)
...to emulate the density of plot, rich characters and fog-bound atmosphere of the classic story tellers. It clunks along, failing to captivate (me at any rate) and convince. Like a Victorian melodrama - or, indeed, a part work of the time - it's piled deep with words. But verbosity doesn't necessarily equate to substance and, as this book proves, it can sap any trace of vitality from the story.

The main character, poor old mousy Margaret is stuck in early adolescence. Actually, she's dull (as are her choices of favourite books) and curiously hard to like. Vida Winter is a posh Catherine Cookson with a similarly creative approach to a childhood she'd rather forget.

Anybody trying to convey genius of any sort is setting themselves up for a fall. Ms Setterfield does herself and Vida Winter no favours by attempting to explain the qualities that set her work apart - and failing miserably.

The central themes of preternaturally close if not perverse relationships between various combinations of siblings (won't go into any more detail) are universal and will always be potentially potent. In this case, however, the characters are templates ripped straight from the big girl's book of gothic stereotypes. All the stuff we're told about their banal doings to prove how `odd' is simultaneously melodramatic and tedious.

For example, the mad, bad and dangerous to have near your perambulator (or topiary garden) twins. After years of being subjected to a plethora of nasty abuselit (check out the book shelves in your local supermarket) and endless `opening of hearts' on TV, radio and in print, a bit of wandering around a dilapidated stately home untended and unwashed is a pretty limp portrayal of a chaotic and ultimately destructive childhood.

There are a number of books of this type around at the moment. Almost without exception, the authors succeed only in proving that the originals (Dickens, Wilkie Collins, etc) were damn fine writers.

...to emulate the density of plot, rich characters and fog-bound
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Trying too hard?, 15 Jan 2014
By 
C. K. Harrison (Southampton, Hampshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Thirteenth Tale (Kindle Edition)
I was drawn to "The Thirteenth Tale" by its promise of its Gothic undertones, "Jane Eyre" and "Rebecca", having a soft spot for books which feature family secrets, possibly haunted houses and the like.

The book starts quite promisingly and I have to admit that, at first, I found it very entertaining, if rather unrealistic. However, as the work progressed, this unrealism became more and more irritating to me. Obviously, this type of novel is not always set in complete reality: sometimes we have to have a suspension of disbelief in order to like a particular work (the aforementioned "Rebecca" does contain a number of plot holes but I was prepared to overlook these as I was finding other aspects of the novel so enjoyable). However, the novel's shortcomings gradually took over and I became less and less enamoured of the story. Vida Winter is a best-selling writer, but we know very little about her actual writing career or her books: the narrator "suddenly" has the answers to all the questions cropping up in the story which have been hidden for decades: the characters themselves do not have any substance to them, and have a habit of disappearing on a regular basis. The whole novel seems set in a kind of NeverNever Land which operates on its own rules.

I also found the habit of referring to "Jane Eyre" and similar works rather annoying. The author often picks these out of the library, and we are presumably meant to find these references forming a parallel to the story here: however, "Jane Eyre" has far more power and skill involved, and I find it rather pretentious for the writer to imply that her work is anything approaching that of Charlotte Bronte's. There is also the matter of the reading list at the end of the work and the questions aimed at reading groups, as if this is some sort of literary classic which bears discussion.

It is a pity that a promising idea was not handled as well as it could have been - inside this book is a better one waiting to be let out.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Angelfield Family, 12 Jan 2014
By 
M. Dowden (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Thirteenth Tale (Kindle Edition)
I saw the TV adaptation for this over the Christmas period and realised that I had never read the book, and so eagerly downloaded it. The story is about a famous writer, Vida Winter, and her employment of Margaret Lea to write her biography. Over the years Miss Winter had given many different versions of her supposed beginnings in life, but she tells Margaret she will give her the truth, in her own time, and in her own way. Thus, like Margaret herself we are led through a compelling tale of the life of Vida Winter.

At no time are we given any exact dates and this in a way creates a slightly dreamlike quality to the whole story and gives it a timeless sort of feel. As we are told about the Angelfield family we soon see that the family is dysfunctional, and a certain amount of madness is inherent amongst some of the members. But the main part of this centres upon twins, and the links that are known to exist amongst them, as well as methods of child rearing; after all we are shown here more of a case of nature versus nurture, and what can happen if nature is allowed to take its course.

Diane Setterfield is on top form here as she drops in the names of other books, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Woman in White, and The Turn of the Screw, all spring to mind, which at places have certain parallels with this tale. Full of incident this has family secrets, love, betrayal and madness at its roots, making for quite a heady concoction. Margaret does check facts as the full story is being disclosed to her, but we see that Miss Winter herself can at times be an unreliable narrator as she discloses certain things at certain times, although we are given clues ahead of what will happen.

This story does hearken back to the Nineteenth Century tales of the gothic and sensation fiction and was a real pleasure to read for someone like me who loves those old stories. This would also make a good book choice for a reading group as there is a lot to discuss here, and there is a reading group guide after the story. If you like good old fashioned story telling, then you can't really go wrong with this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Such a Twisted Mystery, 1 Jan 2014
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This review is from: The Thirteenth Tale (Kindle Edition)
Admittedly, I read the first page and I rolled my eyes, thinking that this book would be long-winded and horribly cliched. I am so glad that I was proven wrong! As the tale unwinds before your eyes in well paced, teasing snippets, you really get the grasp of the emotions felt of both Emmeline and Adeline. I got to reading near the very end and then I got to the twist! The twist almost 3/4's in that completely alters the atmosphere of the novel. Every small incident is drawn into sharper reality, the teasing puzzles throughout the story are answered delicately, like handling a precious fragile animal. The whole truth is finally unravelled and it will literally break your heart to learn the solemn truths from Vida Winters. I won't give anything away because as Vida says, "All books have a beginning, middle and end, and you mustn't try to fast forward with questions". Everything gets answered eventually ;). Highly Recommended!
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The Thirteenth Tale
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
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