Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale: Review

All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won't be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.

Vida Winter in Tales of Change and Desperation

So we're told before we even begin Diane Setterfield's novel The Thirteenth Tale. The tale is a fairly intricate one. Vida Winter, a world-renowned writer who has managed to keep her life story shrouded in mystery throughout her life, is very ill and decides to share that story with Margaret Leo, an amateur biographer. It's not that Miss Winter hasn't told her life story before....she has. Countless versions--all different. How can Margaret be sure that this time the story will be true? Each woman is hiding a secret pain, a pain that may be more similar than they know, and they strike a bargain for the story-telling. As Miss Winter begins unfolding the story, Margaret--and the reader--is mesmerized. There are gothic overtones and a legacy of strange behaviors in the Angelfield family, from Isabelle and Charles to the wild twins Adeline and Emmeline. There is also a ghost, a determined governess, a topiary garden, and a horrible fire. There are hints of James' Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. [But I have to say that Setterfield does a much better job with her story than Jackson did with hers.] As the story becomes more and more gothic, Margaret continues to question Miss Winter's truthfulness. She soon finds that the story is unfolding as it should and together they confront the individual ghosts that have haunted them.

This is an absolutely marvelous book. Just like Margaret in the story, I was mesmerized by the story-telling. The language and descriptions were perfect to set the stage for the gothic tale that Miss Winter has to tell. Setterfield gives full, vivid pictures with no wasted words--but every bit as much as needed. She deftly handles the various characters involved in the story and, no matter how small a part they play, allows them their moment to shine. This good, old-fashioned story-telling at its best. At its heart, it is a book about identity and family and loss. It's about endings and new beginnings. And on top of all that, it's a book that should appeal to readers. Margaret is a bibliophile and it shows. She has many little tidbits about being a reader, reading, and stories that are bang on target:

A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.

There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.

For me to see is to read. It has always been that way.

All reading truths that should resonate with book bloggers. In the end, this is a lovely, well-written book that I am sure to recommend over and over. It is also a book that I will grab up and buy at my earliest opportunity. Four and a half stars.


Ryan said...

I absolutely loved this book and agree that the author is an expert wordsmith.

BookQuoter said...

Love this book and your review. YOu have a way with words yourself. Enjoyed it.

Bev Hankins said...

@BookQuoter: Thanks! I'm so glad you enjoyed the review!