Monday, January 11, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

In this fiction book Vida Winter is a popular author. She had one book published many years ago called Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, however, the book only had 12 stories. She’s since lied to everyone who’s asked about what that thirteenth tale could be. She’s now dying and asks a relatively unknown biographer, Margaret Lea, to hear her tale.

The Thirteenth Tale is a gothic tale, by that I mean there is an old family, an old house, incest, servants, scientific experiments, babies, and a fire involved. Jane Eyre is the classic example of a gothic romance tale. This tale is not a romance, but rather a tale of family. The whole story is somewhat unbelievable when viewed from afar, but the writing is excellent and draws one in.

In Vida’s letter to ask Margaret to visit and write her biography Vida mentions how she fooled a reporter.

I didn’t tell him the truth. How could I? I told him a story. An impoverished, malnourished little thing. No sparkle, no sequins, just a few dull and faded patches, roughly tacked together with the edges left frayed. The kind of story that looks like real life. Or what people imagine real life to be, which is something rather different.”

To ensure that Vida is telling the truth this time, Margaret asks for three things to verify her story. This leads to Margaret’s entanglements with people who are still living in the town where Vida grew up.

Margaret does move in with Vida and begin listening to her story. However, Margaret has her own secrets and her own story that gradually comes out along with Vida’s. Here Margaret contemplates her birthday:

“Unhappy birthday. From the day I was born, grief was always present. It settled like dust upon the household. It covered everyone and everything: it invaded us with every breath we took. It shrouded us in our own separate miseries.”

I think this novel compares favorably with Jane Eyre and is at least as compelling. I highly recommend it and it is on my list of top ten fiction books.

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