Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Thirteenth Tale

I've just seen that we're being treated to Olivia Coleman and Vanessa Redgrave in a television adaptation of The Thirteenth Tale this Christmas so I went in search of my 2006 review of this book. 


A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get hold of an advance reading copy of The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. It’s one of those brick-weight paperbacks designed to break your wrist, tough to read in bed, lethal in the bath (the two places where most of my reading gets done). The dh grabbed it first because I was deep in something else. He started reading and kept on going. “You’re going to like this...” he said. Often. And when he got to the end he confessed that he’d shed a tear.

This week, after I’d caught up with the latest Bella Brides book by Raye Morgan – lovely btw – it was my turn to go into weight-training. Last night I finally reached the last page and, yes, I was crying.

Here’s the cover blurb:

“A dark and compelling mystery in the timeless vein of Daphne du Maurier, about family secrets and the potent magic of storytelling.

“Vida Winter, a bestselling yet reclusive novelist, has created various outlandish life histories for herself – all of them invention. Now old and ailing, at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. Her letter to biographer Margaret Lea is a summons. Vida’s tale is one of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family: the beautiful and wilful Isabelle and the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline. Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida’s storytelling, but as a biographer she deals in fact not fiction and she doesn’t trust Vida’s account. We invite you to join her as she begins her passionate journey to the truth.”

What can I say about The Thirteenth Tale that adequately expresses my pleasure in every page? That the writing is simple, clear, expressive and utterly compelling, drawing the eye, the brain and the heart into the book. That I was captivated from the first and the story, an involved history of a deeply damaged and disturbed family, and that of the narrator, has strong echoes of Jane Eyre – indeed the book is quoted often – Wuthering Heights, even Henry James’ Turn of the Screw gets a mention. It has twins, ghosts, a governess, madness and love in all its guises. That this morning I went to Amazon to see what else Miss Setterfield has written, my “one-click” digit ready for action. Alas, there is nothing, only the information that she has written “papers” on Andre Gide and has taught French.

2013 Updated! There is a new Diane Settlefield on sale this Christmas! Bellman & Black


Julie B. said...

I remember being so excited when this was book was first published - until someone spoilt it for me. I put it aside and forgot all about it - until now! Thank you for reminding me, Liz. I shall certainly dig it out and read it. It looks like a perfect winter read!

Liz Fielding said...

I'd like re-read it, Julie, but I gave my copy to my daughter. Looking forward to the TV adaptation, though. Olivia Coleman is always a treat. :)