Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Book - The Thirteenth Tale by Diane SetterfieldThe Thirteenth Tale is full of gothic mysteries and ghosts, stories and secrets. It is a tale of sibling rivalry and love on many different levels, yet it is also a story of loneliness and unimaginable grief.

It begins in a fairly ordinary way, with a young woman who likes books. Margaret Lea works in her father’s antiquarian bookshop, and she writes biographies. She hides a secret – a secret that brings great sorrow, a secret that follows her everywhere she goes.   

One day Margaret is approached by a famous author, Vida Winter. Miss Winter’s past is a well-kept secret, and she has tantalised journalists for years with numerous stories, all of them false. Now she has invited Margaret to write her official biography, to help her reveal the true story of her real identity to the world.

Margaret is reluctant. She has no way of knowing how much she can trust Miss Winter. Is this really the true story? She begins to investigate the facts, to search for evidence in the burnt-out ruin of Angelfield House. The more she discovers, the more confusing the story appears to become.

I was captivated by this story within a story – the story of a very strange family, an incestuous love affair, a dilapidated house and a pair of rather frightening twins. There are so many questions that cannot be answered. Who is to blame for the damage done to the topiary garden? Why do the twins seem to live in their own universe, untouched by the lives of others? Who is the mysterious young boy working in the garden? Is the house really haunted? And what does all this have to do with the story of Jane Eyre?

The Thirteenth Tale is a magnificent gothic puzzle, a book that will make you wonder and guess, and scratch your head until the last few chapters, when the truth is finally revealed.

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