Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale

I recently received a number of "new" books, by which I mean relatively recent publications--such as The Book Thief--and I have been enjoying reading books that "everybody else" was reading last year.

This week, I finished The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, which came so highly recommended that I did go into the story with pretty high expectations. My reading friends did not lead me amiss--this book was engrossing and amazing from the start. The book-loving characters get things off on the right foot, and mystery and secrets hang in the air almost from the very first page.

I really enjoy stories that shift around in time (a personal quirk), which is another tick in the "plus" column for this book. The current action is very minimal. I was even a little taken aback by the fact that the characters write real mail-them-through-the-post-office-with-a-stamp letters. Yet the book is set solidly in the present. The atmosphere of Jane Eyre hangs over the book, as Margaret goes to stay in the remote Yorkshire home of the mysterious and elderly author, Vida Winters, to listen to her story and write her biography.

As Miss Winters is notorious for making up stories about her history, Margaret does not entirely trust her tale. As the story unfolds, told in pieces because of Miss Winter's failing health, Margaret makes some excursions to the actual sites she is hearing about. Back and forth, from Miss Winter's history, which resembles a badly fractured fairy tale, to the present on the lonely moors, the story unfolds from beginning, to middle, to end, exactly as Miss Winters has dictated it must. Margaret, haunted by her own "ghosts," is not supposed to ask questions or jump ahead in the story, but sometimes she does.

Both of the main characters in the story--Vida Winters and Margaret--have suffered extremely dysfunctional homes. As Margaret grows to understand what has happened in Miss Winter's life, she begins to wonder if it is not too late for healing within her own family and heart.

I am not going to give away any spoilers for this one. It's good enough to be saved and enjoyed even if you have to wait for awhile (I ought to know).

This is not a plot-driven page turner, although there are those secrets lurking in corners, waiting to step out and declare themselves. This is an "atmospheric" book with a collection of odd characters--past and present--most of whom are unhappy because of secrets in their past. By the end of the story, some of them, at least, have a hopeful outlook and are ready to put the past behind them.

P.S. I wanted to add an image of the book, but blogger is not cooperating with uploading images. I wonder if it's just me, or if it's a blogger problem? I'll try later.


At 4:42 PM , Blogger Wendy said...

I loved this book, as well. I read it when it first came out and listed it as one of my top 10 reads of 2006. This was a book that just swept me away and when I was reading it, I felt like I was THERE - in the story, with the characters. I hope she'll write another novel soon :)

At 9:58 PM , Blogger Literary Feline said...

I am glad you enjoyed this one so much. I did too. I loved the writing and the atmosphere of the book just as much as I enjoyed being a part of the characters' lives and seeing where the story would take me. Great review!

At 5:27 PM , Blogger Carl V. said...

I loved Thirteenth Tale when I read it:

and have been thinking about reading it again come autumn.

You are completely right, it is an atmospheric book. It literally drips with mood and atmosphere. I loved it. I could spend many a day reading books like this.

I'm glad you enjoyed it. For some this book was a disappointment after it was hyped so much by those of us who fell in love with it. Glad that wasn't the case for you.

Since you like time jumping books, have you read Time Traveler's Wife or Time and Again (Jack Finney). I recommend them both.


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