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4.2 out of 5 stars
432
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 11 April 2017
4.5 stars rounded up.

I loved this. A perfect Gothic tale with an enigma at the centre, and lots and lots of twists and turns.

There are twins - two sets, without giving anything away - which always fascinates me, having two identical sets for siblings myself. One of them is the narrator, a lost soul who has hidden herself away with dusty tomes for the past, and who wants nothing to do with the present or (apart from her father) with anyone living. Until she takes on the role of biographer to another twin, in the hope of unravelling the mystery of the lost Thirteenth Tale.

But of course nothing is as it seems. Everything is a puzzle. What is the truth and what is the story? Is perception the only reality? Does the past define the present, or can we escape it? And ultimately, how much of the truth really matters? Every time you think you've got a grasp on the story, it escapes you. Every time you think - ah, now I get it (as Margaret, the narrator does, several times) you realise as you turn the page that you don't get it at all. And right up until the end, you think there are far too many questions to answer, this can never be resolved.

And yet it is. Was the ending to my satisfaction? Hmm, that I am not entirely sure of. In contrast to the darkness in the book, the ending was light, it was a neatly tied-up parcel with no twists and turns, and no room for other explanations. While it explained everything, there was a bit of me that didn't want it all explained. There was a (perhaps perverse) bit of me that didn't want a 'happy' ending, that wanted some questions left open to interpretation.

But that's a minor gripe. The Thirteenth Tale was a brilliant, classic Gothic story complete with bodies and castles and looming weather. It is one of those rare books, one that kept me away from my own writing, one that made me skive off housework and lie late into the night turning the pages just to find out what, and how, and what. Highly recommended.
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on 30 April 2017
A gem of a book. Loved it…a story that echoes other stories, reminding you of the books you love and making you want to visit them once again.

Descent

This was a wonderful bookish book. The MC, Margaret has been raised in a bookshop and spends her day working and reading there, having become something of an “amateur” biographer as she terms it. Books have been her school, her university, her life. Like I say it was just ooooh so bookish.

“…you leave the previous book with ideas and themes - characters even - caught in the fibres of your clothes, and when you open the new book they are still with you.”
Depth

The storyline follows the biographer’s trip to interview Vida Winters, a prolific, famous and secretive author. The author has never given a truthful account of her life…until now. Margaret journeys to her house in Yorkshire, and you cannot help think (as the MC does) of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Through Miss Winter’s story we discover her tale (and there is a house) Angelfield House involved in the tale. But we are taken down the twists and turns of history, of literature, history echoing story or story echoing history, hungering to discover Miss Winter’s true tale, which, in turn, shares painful similarities with Margaret’s own.

Ascent

I devoured this in two sittings, and I didn’t want to come out of it. It felt like a homage to other wonderful books as well. Just after reading it, I delved into Wuthering Heights again and I’m going to see Jane Eyre shortly at the theatre. So all in all, this is a book that you can luxuriate in and after leaving gets you in the mood to jump into lots of other stories that have inspired it. Also bought a copy of Rebecca recently on holiday, which has a lot to do with the ideas from this book still percolating in my head!
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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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on 10 June 2017
This was one of our book club reads. It got the highest rating of any of the books that we read in the previous year. We score on a 0 to 10 scale, and this got an average of 8, with lowest individual score of 7. It reads like a classic (Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, etc) on account of beautiful prose, but with an intriguing plot and mystery elements coming in right from the start. I'd recommend to anyone looking for a gripping holiday read.
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on 16 April 2016
Only two problems with this book were
1) I couldn't put it down
2) It was too short
Sorry 3 problems, because it's set such a high standard, I'm going to find it hard to find something to match it
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on 21 August 2017
The language is rich and the book is beautifully written. I liked the many twists and turns the plot took and the fact that they were cleverly kept from the reader and only revealed gradually which kept the pages turning.
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on 17 March 2017
Excellent read & very thought provoking
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on 10 August 2015
Brilliant!
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on 4 November 2014
fantastic new author! completely different style that kept you fascinated right to the last page.
can't wait to read the next novel.
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on 13 August 2017
Didn't won't it to end I like how people can keep secrets from each other I would like to read a sequel
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