Even though this is a little bit out of my comfort zone when it comes to genre (though not completely; there is mention of a ghost, after all), Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale is easily one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.
Seriously, Setterfield can write, which is even more of a requirement when one of your main characters just happens to be one of the most famous authors in the world. She is fictional, but goodness I wish Vida Winter were real. Then again, seeing as Setterfield wrote her point of view, in the end Winter is just as real of a person as anyone else out there.
We first find ourselves with Margaret Lea, a lover of books, stories, and even the most mundane written word that no one else would think twice about dedicating more than a few seconds too before easily falling into a deep daydream that overshadows any reading that may continue past this point. All words have a story because of the people who found them important enough to scribble out, and there is something about the way she feels about literature, nonfiction, or what have you that reminds me of some of my favorite bits from Ian McEwan’s Atonement about the writer playing God.
Which is where Vida Winter comes in. Even though her books have found their way onto the vast majority of the shelves of the literate, the woman herself is quite an enigma because of her love of storytelling. She says everyone has a story, but she has kept hers close to her chest, instead making up past lives each and every time a journalist comes seeking the truth. But now she is finally ready to voluntarily divulge the truth of who Vida Winter really is.
Now obviously I have never read any of Winter’s works of fiction seeing as they aren’t real, but the way in which her own story unfolds from beginning to end makes it clear why she has been so popular, and thus I can only hope that Setterfield can grab some of this success for herself because Winter’s storytelling, or Setterfield’s storytelling, is more than engrossing, as Lea will tell you as she sits as the solo member of the audience. The mystery of Vida Winter’s past is explored slowly as she says herself, “when I was born I was no more than a subplot,” so we are treating to the building of a world full of a dilapidated house, intertwined siblings, abandoned and unruly twins, science experiments, ghosts, and those that keep an eye on all as the constant. More and more is divulged with each new additional plot point or character developing moment in her tale, and it truly isn’t until “The End” that we really understand the full extent of what we were just told.
I haven’t felt it often, at least not as often as occurs while watching movies, but The Thirteenth Tale is one of those stories that ends with the need to go back to page one and experience it again. What is told is an amazing story, but it is also how it is told that is all the more important because Winter chooses to tell her story in her own time as a true storyteller would do, divulging important facts when she wants all the while not exactly skirting the truth. And like the ghosts within the pages, this story will haunt you long after it is done, and that’s a presence that I don’t mind hovering over me.
Final Grade: 5 out of 5 Follow @BewareOfTrees