Book: The Thirteenth Tale

Author: Diane Setterfield


The Thirteenth Tale-Diane Setterfield

Vida Winter, an author of many best-selling, contemporary fictions, lives in complete isolation in the countryside of Yorkshire. Questions about her have intrigued her fans, journalists and biographers since ages. But all these years, she has veiled her past with false stories until a novice biographer receives an invitation from her to chronicle the true Gothic story of her life—The Thirteenth Tale.

Social/Historical context:

Nowhere in the novel has the author explicitly given a date confirming the period that marks the story, but the description of the society, culture and economic setup hints towards the 19 century for both the present and past times described in the novel. While the past is set among the inhabitants of the Angelfield village, the present describes the simple and monotonous lifestyle of Margaret Lea and the comfortable and moderately-rich living of Miss Vida Winter. Although both the times are set in the same century, you’d get the impression of a substantial gap between the times.

Writing Style:

The speech is primarily in first person with Margaret Lea playing the narrator. The author; however, has also used third-person narrative for Vida’s dialogues in the novel. The transition from one speech to another is really smooth so you’d not struggle while reading the novel. The two main characters in the novel—Vida Winter and Margaret Lea—have been described elaborately. You’d see how different the two characters are from each other yet a common loss connects both of them. Both the main characters demonstrate strength, determination and persistence as the story progresses. All the other characters have been vividly described. One of the characters—Hester Barrow—is strikingly similar to the popular Jane Eyre. The overall mood of the novel is gloomy, mysterious and sometimes gothic. The ironical differences between twins form the basis of the entire story.

My Thoughts:

The title and synopsis of the novel promises a satisfactory gothic read, but the story will not scare you. It might intrigue, interest, make you feel sorry, and engage you well enough, but it will definitely not give you goose bumps. So, the novel is not a delight for the horror lovers. Nevertheless, the story is very unique and heartbreaking. Two stories—Vida’s past and Margaret’s present—progress simultaneously; thereby, slowing down the pace of the story. While I really liked Vida’s story, I couldn’t empathize with the pain in Margaret’s life even when I liked her character. The author describes Margaret investigating the ruins of the Angelfield estate to ensure the genuineness of Vida’s story, but I found such descriptions somewhat dull and obstructing the flow of the main story. Still, the end is very surprising because you’d not be able to guess it out very easily unless you have read something very similar. All and all, a good read if you aren’t expecting too much.

Book Reviewed by Suchandra Ganguly

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