Thursday, September 17

Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale

Title: Thirteenth Tale

Author: Diane Setterfield

Pages: 416

Summary: Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father's antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise–she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.
As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story. In the end, both women have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets. As well as the ghosts that haunt them still.

My Rating: 4.5/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: This book was everywhere I went for the past year (or more?). I was always immediately drawn to the cover, because it was so beautiful and always debated picking up a copy of the book and giving it a home. But I never did. Finally I borrowed it from a library, and I’m glad I never gave it a home because I didn’t like this book much at all. It started out very slow and boring for me. The main character was very bothersome, although I did like her love for books and the author’s portrayal of a person’s love for books, for the most part the character Margaret annoyed the hell out of me. She was very, I want to say Mary-Sue like at times. She was constantly interfering with the story, to the point it ruined it for me.

Vida Winter’s story about her life was what kept me reading, and the book did pull me in at this point. Any part when she told her story, of the twins, and her life, I loved and really enjoyed, but I still cringed every time Margaret came along, gave her input to her self on what she thinks is happening. Were the “show don’t tell” aspect of writing is thrown out the window. So many times, parts of the mystery side of the book you can guess at, and can be predictable at times, are given away because Margaret “figures it out”. It took the fun out of guessing for the yourself as the reader, then later finding out when Vida goes on with the story. One of the biggest flaws of this book was Margaret’s character constantly interfering with everything, doing her own investigations, and ruining Vida’s story. It was like watching a movie and the person next to you shouts out what will happen, even though the scene is already building up to the answer, they blurt it out, the suspense is gone and it becomes a big let down then thee story starts to become redundant, because you already know what the answer is, and you don’t care for the extra fill ins anymore, because the build up to it was what you wanted.

Would I recommend it to read: I personally didn’t like the story, but I think a lot of people out there would. There is a good aspect of suspense, although it was ruined for me, those who really like all types of ghost stories, mystery, thriller, suspense etc, would enjoy the book. I like some of these genre’s in books, but just not the way it was handled here. But I do think a lot of thriller/ mystery fans would enjoy the book.

My final issue of the book is it became a little soap operaish in the big revelation on how certain characters are connected to each other that you’ve meet throughput the book. The whole ghost aspect REALLY bugged me to. Especially Margaret’s “twin ghost” I didn’t get that at all, it added no depth to her character, and the very end of the book was stupid, stupid stupid! I nearly though the damn book across the room at that point. The hint at a ghost is one thing. Her looking into a bloody mirror and taking a picture because it’s the ghost of her twin? WTF? Honey! That’s your reflection! I just didn’t get the twin part on and why it was so important, why she was suddenly seeing the twin ghost. To me, it seemed that Margaret having a twin at birth, was thrown in there as a plot device the content editors forgot to get rid of because it was never developed or explained properly. Okay, so if Margaret wasn’t in the book, the story would have been a lot better for me. Because I loved digging into Vida’s past, and finding out who she really was, that was great. If the story was just that, and Margaret kept her mouth shut, the story likely would have likely been an 8.

What to read next: I'm not sure, not sure at all. On LibraryThing to books I saw that it recommended were Water for Elephants and The Historian. Both are in my TBR/Wishlist pile, but haven't read them my self. If you liked thillers, two I enjoyed, but aren't really anywhere related to this were Missing Monday by Mathew Costello and Going East by Mathew D'Acona.

Challenges: 100+ Challenge


  1. This book was a let down for me as well. I loved the gothic part of it; however the ending/surprise didn't really deliver. Could have been more.

  2. It's been about a year since I read this book. I wasn't really expecting much out of it. I just grabbed it when I was unexpectedly in the mood for modern adult fiction, which I don't normally take to well. It was better than I thought, but not terribly memorable. Like I can't even remember the relationship of that third person, the one in the garden digging to avoid spoilers, to the other two. That was a huge plot twist, and i don't even remember it.

  3. I'm too lazy to look up my own review right now, but I definitely hated the ghost twin part as well. I was like, come on. I LOVED Vida's story, though. Someone should petition Diane Setterfield to publish just those parts of the novel, The Actual Thirteenth Tale, if you will.

  4. Thanks for you honest review. I am one of those that truly like the book though.

  5. oh how sad to see you gave this a low rating! I'd heard so much good about it from IRL people.

  6. I remember really enjoying this one. It's definitely not everyone's cup of tea.

  7. Hmm I was planning to read this at some point. I'm not terribly excited about it but because I read so many good reviews of it I thought I had to read it. Good to see another point of view though!

  8. StephanieD, Alison - It's nice to see other's out there who feel this way. The book has had such high praise. Some good parts to the book, but it just wasn't hitting me, like it did other. I agree with you Alison, I'd also like to see that book published!

  9. I've had this one for a while, and still haven't read it; there's been so much praise and I'm always hesitant in those cases! In a way, I'm glad to read your review because now I can go in with less expectations. I'm not a fan of "soap operaish" endings, so we'll see how much I like it!

  10. I liked the book, but totally agree with your take on Margret's twin. I was so frustrated with that aspect of the book, and thought there was a lot of needless drama there. I'm sorry this book wasn't a favorite with you, but I really liked your assessment.