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The Thirteenth Tale

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All children mythologize their birth...So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter's collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself -- all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter's story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida's storytelling but remains suspicious of the author's sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.

406 pages, Hardcover

First published September 12, 2006

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About the author

Diane Setterfield

12 books6,260 followers
“…a mistress of the craft of storytelling.”
The Guardian

Diane Setterfield is a British author. Her bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale (2006) was published in 38 countries worldwide and has sold more than three million copies. It was number one in the New York Times hardback fiction list for three weeks and is enjoyed as much for being ‘a love letter to reading’ as for its mystery and style. Her second novel, Bellman & Black (2013 is a genre-defying tale of rooks and Victorian retail. January 2019 sees the publication of her new title, Once Upon a River, which has been called 'bewitching' and 'enchanting'.

Born in Englefield, Berkshire in 1964, Diane spent most of her childhood in the nearby village of Theale. After schooldays at Theale Green, Diane studied French Literature at the University of Bristol. Her PhD was on autobiographical structures in André Gide’s early fiction. She taught English at the Institut Universitaire de Technologie and the Ecole nationale supérieure de Chimie, both in Mulhouse, France, and later lectured in French at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. She left academia in the late 1990s to pursue writing.

The Thirteenth Tale was acquired by Heyday Films and adapted for television by the award-winning playwright and scriptwriter, Christopher Hampton. Starring Vanessa Redgrave and Olivia Colman, it was filmed in 2013 in North Yorkshire for BBC2. The TV rights to Once Upon a River have even sold to Kudos (Broadchurch, Spooks, Grantchester).

Diane Setterfield has been published in over forty countries.

Diane lives in Oxford, in the UK. When not writing she reads widely, and when not actually reading she is usually talking or thinking about reading. She is, she says, ‘a reader first, a writer second.’

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5 stars
106,914 (34%)
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3 stars
63,388 (20%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 26,096 reviews
Profile Image for Kristina.
205 reviews
August 22, 2007
Sigh. I really, really wanted to like this book. I heard good things about it, and it has many elements I usually love in a novel: a Victorian sensibility, questions of identity and sisterhood (as well as siblinghood generally), meta-commentary on writing, and a plain, quiet, somewhat chilly protagonist who prefers books to people. The protagonist, Margaret, grew up in a bookstore and learned to read using 19th century novels, and there are clear parallels in the story to Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Turn of the Screw, and so on.

And yet, with all it had going for it, somehow it fell flat for me. Somehow it felt slight and, eventually, tedious at the same time. There were definitely many interesting moments, but for some reason, the "gothic" elements of the story never swept me up in the passion and scandal the way it would if the Brontes or Wilkie Collins wrote it. Obviously this is an unfair comparison since the Brontes and Collins are my favorite writers, but then again, if you're going to model your story on Jane Eyre (and indeed, there were parts that really beat you over the head with it, stating the obvious instead of allowing the reader to infer for herself), you should be up to the task, right? One of the problems, in my opinion, is that it seems Setterfield wanted a "Chinese box" construction ala Wuthering Heights, but whereas that novel drew me in and made me feel like I was personally sitting at Nelly's feet as she told me the story of Heathcliff and Cathy, somehow Setterfield's construction (in which the novelist Vida Winter tells Margaret her story, and does so using third person, for a reason revealed later in the novel) feels very distanced. Margaret has a personal obsession which is supposed to parallel Miss (the novel's term, not mine) Winter's, but this obsession, for me at least, had me wishing Margaret would just get over it already. Miss Winter's story stops adding much new information at a certain point, and later we are given the diaries of a minor character, which essentially only goes over information we already know. Yet despite this, the ending feels rushed, and the mysterious "thirteenth tale," which Margaret receives in writing toward the end, is only excerpted. One wishes A.S. Byatt had written this novel, as I suspect Setterfield may not have felt up to the task of writing "the thirteenth tale," which has a fascinating premise. Byatt, I am sure, would have written a gorgeous tale to end the book with.

That's the bottom line, I suppose: I just don't think Setterfield is that good a stylist. The story should have drawn me in but didn't, and I set it down to writing that simply wasn't as imaginative or lovely as it could have been. If I read that someone made "hot, sweet tea" ONE MORE TIME I was going to go crazy -- I like hot, sweet tea as much as the next Victorianist, but can't you find something else to describe, or a different way of doing it?

With all of the wonderful Victorian-style writing going on now from former academics like Sarah Waters and AS Byatt, it's too bad this book didn't measure up. I kept comparing it to the (in my opinion) wonderful The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which is also a first novel by a former academic. The Historian has faults -- it's a little repetitious in certain points, it's unwieldly, there are some logic issues -- but it is so true to its Victorian predecessor (Bram Stoker's Dracula) in feeling, and it completely sucks you in (pun intended). I have discovered a personal preference: I would rather have an overlong, unweildy, messy wonderful novel that completely absorbs me than a shorter, tidier, but slight novel that doesn't touch me emotionally. Wow, did I just write a review that's longer than the book I just read?
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
July 28, 2014
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”

I don't know if I've ever loved words so much.

Lots of people told me that this was a book I needed to read, but many of those people also warned me that I might find it slow. So I went into The Thirteenth Tale prepared for a subtle plot that moved at a gentle pace... well maybe my expectations are to blame but that wasn't what I got. Slow?? Not for me. There was not a slow moment in this story because the prose itself was dynamic and consumingly evocative. I was intrigued by the mystery, seduced by the characters and caught up in page after page of well-written family drama.

Do you like...?:
1) Books
2) Mysteries
3) Family dramas

If you said yes to those, then I really can't see any reason you wouldn't love this book. People were right when they said it's a book for people who love books. It is. A love of literature and words is enthused in every page of this novel. I find myself believing that had I not already been a bibliophile, an encounter with this book would be enough to have me drooling over the endless possibilities and magic that lie within stories.

I must confess that I am almost always a story person first, a character person at a close second and a language/word person last. This book delivered on all three, but it was the latter that most amazed me. Setterfield completely seduces you with words. I read passages over and over again because I loved the language and style so much.

“Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled.”

The story is about a biographer called Margaret Lea who very suddenly and unexpectedly receives a hand-written letter from the popular and critically-acclaimed novelist - Vida Winters. Ms Winters wants Margaret to recount her life story, she wants to finally stop telling fictional stories and reveal the truth of her childhood and all its dark secrets. Before accepting, Margaret reads and falls in love with one of the author's books called Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, but she is surprised to find that it contains only twelve stories... where is the thirteenth tale?

Margaret finds herself unable to refuse the job. And as Vida Winters opens up more and more, both women are forced to confront the demons of their pasts.

I, for one, was totally sucked into every aspect of the story. The writing had hold of me, the characters made me need to know more about their lives, the mysteries surrounding Winters' youth kept me guessing. If it's possible, I think this book made me love books even more.

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Profile Image for Lisa Muller.
37 reviews26 followers
September 14, 2007

"Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes–characters even–caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you"

This quote from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield sums up my experience with the book. It’s been a while since I’ve felt truly drawn in to a novel. Likely this is the result of my recent tendency toward selecting less-than-literary books in an attempt to find some distraction without devoting much real focus to the reading. I’ll admit that it took me a bit to get hooked, but, a few chapters in, I found myself thinking about the novel and the developing plot at times when I was unable to be reading.

There is no reference to time in the setting of The Thirteenth Tale. From the context clues, I’d guess that it’s set in the 1970s. It’s a world where people still write letters and where if phone lines go down in a storm, country homes are cut off from contact with civilization. Manuscripts are written by hand. The feel of the book is reminiscent of Jane Eyre, a novel that itself is woven throughout the plot.

The story begins when Margaret Lea, a little-published biographer, is summoned by Vida Winter, famous novelist. Ms. Winter is finally ready to tell her true life story, rather than another of the many versions she’s given of her life over the years. As she does so, Margaret and the reader are drawn into the mystery that shrouds Ms. Winter. Through the stories she tells Margaret as well as the accounts of Margaret’s own investigations, we eventually learn the truth both about Ms Winter and the legendary Thirteenth Tale, a story that was left out of an early collection written by Ms. Winter. There are enough twists to keep the story interesting and unpredictable.

The book jacket describes The Thirteenth Tale by stating,

"It is a tale of Gothic strangeness, featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden, and a devastating fire."

In reality, it’s that and much more. This book lead me to wonder about identity, love, and the meaning of family. I have a feeling these characters will indeed be in the fiber of my clothes for quite some time.

Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.7k followers
January 15, 2021
this book has been sitting on my TBR for yearsss. its one of those books that sounds interesting and i want to read it, but i have never been in the mood to actually pick it up. until now, when i finally forced myself to read it.

and boy, i had NO idea i was going to get a gothic ghost story. the format is very ‘the seven husbands of evelyn hugo,’ but instead of hollywood, its victorian jane eyre. it was a complete surprise how kind of spooky this story is. i really dont want to say much because, honestly, i would recommend readers go into this blind to get the full effect.

but just know this is a story about twins, an old manor house, and all of the secrets held within.

4 stars
Profile Image for Adina .
891 reviews3,548 followers
August 19, 2023
Read 2015. Proof read 2023.

I’ve wanted to read this novel for a long time. I found it on a Goodreads list of books about books and, after reading the description, I thought this is a perfect book for me. And it was, almost.
It is a book for people who like books, mysteries and family dramas. Also, it is for people who enjoy Victorian literature ( I cannot call myself a fan as I did not read enough books from that period – something I try to fix). It also has some Gothic flavors.

I picked this up with a lot of anticipation and I loved the beginning. I also enjoyed the atmosphere of the book, the twists and turns and all the love declarations for books. It praises Jane Eyre, Weathering Heights, The woman in White and I believe the novel borrows elements from all the above mentined classics.

Although I really enjoyed the book, I wasn't completely sold by the ending. I do not know the reason for this. I do not know what I expected but somehow it was not this ending. It felt a little bit too abrupt, maybe. I do not know.

Also, the main character has a personal torment that feels a little bit exaggerated. However, I am not in her place so I wouldn't know how I would react.

As I am quite harsh with my stars and only give 5 stars to my favorite books I will give this one 4. Maybe I’ll change my mind. Saying that, I still recommend it to all book lovers out there. I think it will be enjoyed by readers that liked Shadow of the Wind.
Profile Image for Nicole.
513 reviews14.3k followers
May 18, 2021
Książka zawiera spojlery do "Dziwnych losów Jane Eyre"
Absolutnie przecudowna, o sile krwi, więzach, osnuta atmosferą mgły.
To właśnie miłość.
Profile Image for Navessa.
Author 11 books7,641 followers
April 15, 2018
"Tell me the truth."

These are the words that a young journalist speaks to Vida Winter in the beginning of this book. Vida is an author famous for spinning magical tales. In books, and about her life. Each time she releases a new story, she grants multiple interviews, in which every journalist asks her the story of her life, and leaves thinking that they, finally, after decades of deceptions, are the one she's told the truth to.

But she never does. Until now.

Out of the blue, she writes to an amateur biographer named Margaret Lea, telling her that she has chosen her to be her official biographer. That she is finally ready to tell the truth.

What follows is…something I find myself at a loss to describe. Setterfield's prose is of the magical variety. The kind that lifts from the pages to wrap you in its spell and transport you bodily into the book. At one point in the story, Setterfield perfectly describes how I felt when I finally set it down:

"There was a sudden rush in my head, I felt the sick dizziness of the deep-sea diver come too fast to the surface. Aspects of my room came back into view, one by one. My bedspread, the book in my hand, the lamp still shining palely in the daylight that was beginning to creep in through the thin curtains. It was morning. I had read the night away."

I immediately woke up my fiancé (at 5 a.m. on a Saturday) and began to whisper to him about what I had just read. Speaking at full volume didn't seem right, sacrilegious even, because I was still caught in this book's thrall and the ghosts of those who haunted the pages seemed to stalk my waking mind.

I finished it four days ago, and still my fingers twitch toward my beautiful hardcover copy. Because The Thirteenth Tale is a book that you need to read at least twice in your life. The first time, to learn the truth. The second time, to see with eyes wide open what is really taking place within these pages.

This is easily one of my top 10 books of all time.

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Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,536 reviews9,960 followers
September 30, 2019
Reread, although I would liked to have listened to the audio. Maybe next time!

Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾


This book was so good! I can't believe I have had this book in my stacks for a few years now! The story is so bizarre and sad. I loved it!

When Margaret is called upon by Vida Winter, a famous author, to come and write her biography she has no idea what she is in for with this woman.

Vida tells the story of her life as a child, but she is not who she seems. The twist ending threw me right off the bus. I didn't see that one coming at all, but I should have expected something along those lines.

The way the author weaves this tale is so haunting and it reels you right into the book. I can not fathom how children can be brought up this way! The story unfolds in a beautiful, well, what should be, a beautiful mansion in the countryside of London. They call the place Angelfield.

This is about a family that goes beyond being dysfunctional. I want to see this on film!

It is an incredibly sad story, I cried. But there is a happy ending so that is what matters.

The story is a beautiful tale even though it is incredibly disturbing at times and so very sad. All of the characters and background is very rich in detail and I liked a lot of the characters.

I would like to read more books from this author if they are as good as this one!
Profile Image for Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ .
1,261 reviews8,752 followers
March 10, 2016
Reviewed by: Rabid Reads

So here's my problem with gothic literature: it's so habitually grotesque that it's predictable.

If there's not incest, there's a crazy wife in the attic. If there's not a crazy wife in the attic, there's a murderous illegitimate son who's not right in the head. Or conjoined twins. Or a dying gypsy's curse. Or something equally unsettling.

So even if you guess the HEP Big Secret wrong, whatever it actually is isn't going to make a dent. B/c you've already imagined the worst. B/c gothic.

ALSO . . . I don't like it.

If I lived in the time of traveling freak shows, I would not attend. Not my bag.

You: So why did you read it?

Me: B/c didn't realize it was gothic until I'd already started it.

You: Why didn't you quit?

Me: SCHADENFREUDE . #thestruggleisreal

Plus, the concept is friggin amazing: England's most beloved author, who's written 56 novels in 56 years, has zealously guarded her privacy. She made her pen name her legal name, and has threatened any would-be biographers with lawsuits until they backed down.

Interviewing her has become a kind of rite of passage for journalists, b/c she gives a different version of her life story to every, single one of them. <------how cool is that?

But now she's dying, so she contacts our MC (Margaret), an amateur biographer who's grown up in her father's rare bookshop (a bibliophile's DREAM), and employs Margaret to write her life story before she leaves this mortal coil.

After that is when it gets weird. And gross. And creepy. And messed-the-eff-up.

Man alive, these people are CRAZY.

Including Margaret, who has an unhealthy fixation on her dead-shortly-after-birth twin sister.

Genre preferences aside, there's no denying that this is a beautifully written book:

There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.

It's also mindbendingly clever.

The line between mental illness and the supernatural is so thin, so frail, so indecipherable, that even now, days later, I can't stop thinking about it--were the ghosts real, or did they only exist in her mind?


THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield is not a book you read then forget. It stays with you, taking up brain space, whispering incessantly, like the five notes of a song you can't place, but can't escape. It's beautiful and terrible. And even if you avoid gothic novels like I do, this one . . . This one deserves to be made an exception. Highly recommended (with trepidation).

Jessica Signature
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews36 followers
October 26, 2021
The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield is a gothic suspense novel, the author's first published book in (2006).

Vida Winter, a famous novelist in England, has evaded journalists' questions about her past, refusing to answer their inquiries and spinning elaborate tales that they later discover to be false.

Her entire life is a secret: and, for over fifty years, reporters and biographers have tried innumerable methods in an attempt to extract the truth from Winter.

With her health quickly fading, Winter enlists Margaret Lea, a bookish amateur biographer, to hear her story and write her biography.

With her own family secrets, Lea finds the process of unraveling the past for Winter bringing her to confront her own ghosts.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیستم ماه سپتامبر سال 2009میلادی

عنوان: سیزدهمین قصه؛ نویسنده: داین سترفیلد؛ مترجم: نفیسه معتکف؛ تهران، البرز، سال1386؛ در557ص؛ شابک9644425448؛ داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21م

مارگارت، نویسنده‌ ای جوان، که از کودکی، با کتاب آشنا بوده، متوجه می‌شود، که خواهر دو قلویش، در هنگام تولد فوت کرده، آگاهی از این مسئله، و برملا شدن رازهایی، زندگیش را دگرگون می‌کند؛ هم‌زمان، خانم «وینتر»، نویسنده‌ ی نامدار، در نامه‌ ای از «مارگارت» می‌خواهد، زندگینامه‌ ی او را بنویسد؛ «مارگارت» در طی دیدارهایشان با خانم «وینتر»، با دوقلوهایی با شخصیت‌هایی کاملا دیگرگونه، و فراز و نشیب زندگی آنان، از دوران کودکی تا بزرگسالی، آشنا می‌شود، و سرانجام به راز آنان، و واقعیت «سیزدهمین قصه»، قصه‌ ای در دل قصه‌ هایی دیگر، که جایش در تمام آثار خانم «وینتر» خالی است، پی می‌برد

نقل از متن: (من با آدم‌هایی که عاشق حقیقت هستند ضدیتی ندارم، مگر زمانی که داستان‌سرایی درباره صداقت را شروع کنند، که در این صورت همنشینی کسل‌ کننده می‌شوند، و طبیعتا من هم معذب می‌شوم، به‌ خصوص از شیوه‌ ای که عده‌ ای از آنان در این مورد به‌ کار می‌برند؛ اما اگر آن‌ها مرا تنها بگذارند، من هم کاری به کارشان ندارم

غرولند من، به عاشقان حقیقت نیست، بلکه صرفا به خود حقیقت است؛ در مقایسه با قصه، چه یاری و تسلایی در حقیقت وجود دارد؟ حقیقت چه حسنی دارد، آن هم در نیمه‌ شب، در تاریکی، وقتی باد همچون خرس در بخاری دیواری نعره می‌کشد؟ وقتی صاعقه دیوار اتاق‌ خواب را روشن می‌کند، و باران با آن ناخن‌های بلندش، تق‌ تق روی پنجره می‌کوبد؟ نه؛ وقتی شدت ترس و سرما، از آدم توی رختخوابش، یک مجسمه می‌سازد، نباید انتظار داشت که حقیقت ناب و مستحکم به کمکش بیاید؛ آن موقع به تنها چیزی که نیاز داری تسکین و آرامش صریح، یک قصه است: امنیت آرامش‌‌بخش و تکان‌ دهنده ی یک دروغ.)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 05/10/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 03/08/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,132 followers
October 1, 2019

The perfect October/ Autumn Read
Not since Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier has a book so entranced and haunted me . I rarely read a book twice but when this came up for a sit in book group I was so excited as I longed to pull the curtains and welcome in the Autumn nights with this wonderful multi-layered mystery with its gothic athmosphere that gave me chills down my spine.

Set in the English Country side Angel field House stands abandoned and forgotten. It was once the imposing home of the March family facininating, manipulative Isabell, charlie, her brutal and dangerous brother and the wild untamed twins. But Angelfield House conceals a chilling secret whose impact still resonates.

Unnerving and compelling in equal measure, this is one of those books where the pages turn by themselves. A story of twists and turns to keep the reader on the edge of their seats. No guts or gore in this one just a good old fashioned style mystery that is chilling and haunting. Great character that will leave a lasting memory. So if like me you enjoy, Abandoned manor homes where secrets and mysteries lure the reader in then this may well work for you.

Even though this was my second time to read this novel and I even seen the TV adaptation, I still enjoed every moment spent with this book and will gladly replace this one on its well earned spot on my book shelf.
60 reviews293 followers
August 28, 2019
This book has been on my tbr for the last three years! Then with time, I lost track of my old list to be read and moved on to reading other books which sparked my interest.
Then recently I came across these books which I thought I would red but had never looked at them again, so I decided to start reading my old interests... This turned out to be the first one!

After a long long time, I came across a story that had me captivated until the last word. It kept me awake at night, every moment I tried to catch a point so that the mystery be solved but it kept me hooked up until the very end.

This is the story of unwanted attention and lost love..
Of unbearable sorrow and irreplaceable loss..
Of broken hearts and lost souls..
Of damaged minds and clever ideas..
Of beautiful lies and ugly truths..
Of blue eyes and red hair..
Of empty reality and colorful tales..
Of forbidden passionate romances and
quick witted, motherless babies..
Of alive and dead twin children..
Of blinding beauties and dysfunctional families..

I specifically loved the way the story is written. The writer seems to be truly in sync with the way stories should be told. I felt lost to the world and living in the story itself. And when I came out of my imagination, I knew the characters are gonna stick with me for a long time. You just cannot not hate them, not like them, not get used to them or not think them to be just characters and in the end not let yourself be in love with them at a certain level.

It has those few attraction my mind craves in a book .....
story setting in the world of literature, classical novels and their heroines, a gothic atmosphere, time worn buildings and family history, poetic at certain levels, normal days enveloped in mysteries, multiple layers, unexpected twists!
So basically this book was a treat for me!
I look forward to reading more books by the author!

5 stars!
Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews3,335 followers
November 1, 2021
I don’t mean to brag, but I just finally knocked The Thirteenth Tale off my Goodreads To Read shelf after it’s been languishing there since the day I set up my account. (High five… to myself.)

As it turns out, it’s a five-star book that I only enjoyed at a three-star level.

Is it gothic goodness with gorgeous prose? Yes, it absolutely is.

Did I find it to be “a love letter to books” as has been so oft claimed? Eh, I guess, but only a certain kind of books. Jane Eyre-kind of books.

Was I bored? Yeah, I really was.

While the brooding atmosphere and hint of ghosts put it on my reading list for the October Halloween reading season, The Thirteenth Tale actually begins its story in November. Seasonal readers who’ve also had it languishing on your “someday” shelf… it’s not too late! Hundreds of thousands of glowing reviews imply you might enjoy this story of a dying writer and her reluctant biographer more than I did.

Blog: https://www.confettibookshelf.com/
Profile Image for Libby.
80 reviews79 followers
August 7, 2008
I know that most people like to work out to Gnarls Barkley or Metallica or what-have-you, but I find gym-based exercise so exceedingly boring that I require narrative to keep me going. Since my motor-coordination isn't sufficient enough to allow me to turn the pages of a magazine/book AND pump the pedals on an elliptical trainer, sometime last summer I turned to Audible to solve my problems. Now, what one requires from printed matter may not at all do for the recorded book, and in my case, it turns out that I can only sustain listening interesting in heavily plot-driven novels (or extra dorkified pod-casts of "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me"... sigh, Peter Segel). Unfortunately, the intersections of a compelling plot and interesting writing are fairly few and far between, plus the narrator has to be a strong reader whose vocal stylings are not reminiscent of one's old junior high school/high school drama club classmates. This is difficult. The literary writer trying on genre often works well (John Banville as Benjamin Black is pretty good)--forgive my snobbery--but only because the conventions of a straightforward mystery or sci-fi novel can be a little cringe-inducing when you actually hear them recited aloud. But seriously, I love Science-fiction, so no diss.

Anyhoo, The Thirteenth Tale seemed as though it would fit the bill perfectly. I mean, premise-wise, it's the kind of book editors slaver over (personal experience alert!) esp. vis-a-vis potential audience, in other words, well heeled women (possibly of a certain age). The whole freaking novel is, in effect, a love letter to Jane Eyre and the other mega-hits of the 19th century. I'm browsing Audible, thinking to myself (o.k., talking out loud to myself) "Dark family secrets? Check! Wheels within wheels narrative? Check! Gloomy old English estate? Check! Both Victorian and (presumably) post-war setting? Check! Antiquarian bookstore? Check! Lonely main character whose best friends are books? Secondary main character who is a mysterious, isolated writer? Check, and Check!"

Unfortunately, I think the voice I was hearing in my head was actually Diane Setterfield's cajoling, coercive, whinging, and not my own. Emphasis on coercive--my main gripe about this mess of a novel is that while reading I couldn't shake the feeling that the author is constantly trying to impress upon the reader--HOODWINK INTO BELIEVING, more like it--that this piece of moribund trash is actually a work of serious literature.

Might I illustrate this vexing complaint for you? Let's talk theme for a moment. The central preoccupation of this novel is twinning, or twinness. The two main characters are both twins (not each other's), whose core-identity has been formed by this (as Diane Setterfield would have it) division of one soul, one egg, one person, into two bodies. The concept of the twin is the leitmotif of The Thirteenth Tale. Unfortunately, Setterfield's entire take on the idea of the twin can be fairly summarized in the above italicized line. Over the course of the book, she uses the same metaphor at least four times to describe separated twins or non-twins--the amputee. She has nothing but the most obvious, predictable, easy, pop-psychology thoughts to offer vis-a-vis twins, but these ideas are all delivered in overwrought, hyperbolic, purple prose. Every time the main character, Margaret, catches sight of her reflection (which occurs at least ten times) she swoons into an overheated, almost laughable disquisition about her "twin" (her reflection) who waits for her just on the other side of this mortal coil. Every. Single. Time.

How about books? Well, could you imagine that some clever minx would have us believe that books are like the ghosts of dead people? I mean, as a committed life long reader I have never encountered nor thought of such a bold notion--author's words outlive their bodies and thus reading might be an act of communion with the dead? Whoa. And also, dead folk might get lonely--it's so lonely being dead--and the act of reading is akin to an act of friendship and/or companionship? Fortunately for my feeble and limited imagination, Setterfield ensures that such concepts are inescapable in her novel's groundbreaking treatise on the delights literature has to offer.

Setterfield makes the further mistake of declaring that Margaret's counterpoint, Vida Winter, is the greatest living English author of her day, a point that is crucial to the story's operation. Her books have won legions of awards, and generations of journalists and biographers have been rebuffed in their frenzied attempts to discover her life story. But Setterfield is not capable of convincing us that Winter is a great--one of THE greats--talent. The narratives that Winter spins for Margaret are pale imitations of Atwood/Byatt-esque storylines. Setterfield's insistence that we believe Winter is a cannonized author damages the credibility of the rest of the novel, especially as it relates to the reader's required suspension of disbelief. Of course, the problem is that Setterfield is not (nor should she be) the greatest living English author, nor even close to it, and she's overreaching in trying to depict Winter as such. It's sort of like an unfunny writer trying to write a funny character; the author doesn't possess the tools to show us that the character is funny, but can only tell us she is.

Honestly, I could continue on in my screed for quite a while longer, but I think I should save my energies for positive reviews. Let me just mention that this novel's construction, pacing, and plotting are all askew as well, and that its ultimate resolution is a huge disappointment. Perhaps my take is soured by the fact that I spent fourteen hours listening to this novel, instead of four or so hours reading it. But my feeling is that what could have been a fun homage to the nineteenth century novel became instead a dull trainwreck of a book, derailed by its own inflated sense of literary import. If anyone knows of a better, but similar in texture, novel to accompany me on my upcoming travels/adventures in exercise, I'd love to hear it. Thanks!
Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,258 reviews1,132 followers
March 10, 2023
The Thirteenth Tale is a gothic suspense novel from 2006 with echoes from several Victorian novels. The familiar device of a "story within a story" is employed, and sometimes it even contains another story. This story-telling tradition strongly reminds the reader of earlier classic tales. In fact the "rule of threes" goes throughout this book echoing its fairytale feel. There is the structure of the book itself, "Beginnings, Middles and Endings". There are three generations in the earlier saga. There were three promises extracted by the amanuensis from the author. The settings and characters are familiar to us from earlier books too. A musty library in a decrepit old house with rambling gardens, grotesque ancients, the impressionable young woman, the worthy servants, the governess, unearthly children, generations of twins, the dependable doctor, the stuffy lawyer, ghostly apparitions and strong hints that all is not what it appears to be.

The novel starts strongly with a chapter that is every bibliophile's dream. Margaret Lea is an introverted young woman, living and working in her father's antiquarian bookshop. The musty atmosphere of the bookshop and her life is powerfully depicted. There are descriptions here which are breathtaking; Setterfield shows you very early on that she really can write:

"There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic."

Which reader would not relate to that feeling? But this story cannot really stay there, even though we have an intriguing situation already, as it is clearly depicted from the start that Margaret's mother is reclusive, unwell and has no real relationship with anybody, least of all her daughter. But another element is brought in straightaway. Margaret Lea is requested by a strange handwritten letter to write a biography. The letter is from Vida Winter, a famous novelist who has notoriously never told the truth about herself in all her many interviews, so that there are dozens of unreliable accounts. Margaret is an odd choice, only previously having published short snippets and biographical articles. She knows nothing about the works of this author - or any modern authors - but is intrigued and immediately starts reading Vida Winter's works. She is surprised to be spellbound by the novels, and what finally decides her is one book which only has 12 tales, although the title is "Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation". Questioning her father, it is revealed that this is a rare, perhaps the only, copy in existence. There is a mystery surrounding "The Thirteenth Tale" as the only copies including this story were pulled by the publisher, subsequent editions were retitled, but the general public always remembered the original title and many book-lovers had sought an explanation. Of course this is now an irresistible proposition, and Margaret accepts.

Have you spotted the first gigantic, explicit coincidence? Of course Margaret has to work in an antiquarian bookshop to be privy to this book. It is not possible that her employer would know that she had access to this sole copy. And the name "Winter"? Who does that make the reader think of in a novel with an oldfashioned feel, where the heroine so far is a nervous young woman about to set foot in an enormous old mansion inhabited by an imposing elderly woman? Of course - Mrs de Winter. Just twist the characters a little and you have it.

Again, the early part of the descriptions, where Margaret Lea meets the author are a joy to read. The mansion was old and had been opulent. The reader has an impression that it was overstuffed with furniture and heavy material, even upon the walls. The description is evocative and sensuous. Then Margaret finds the library:

"The other rooms were thick with the corpses of suffocated words: here in the library you could breathe. Instead of the fabric it was a room made of wood."

At this point she meets her employer, and it is absolutely clear that yes, this is a gothic novel in the true tradition. It must be said though, that it is rather heavyhanded. We are still very early on in the novel and it is beginning to feel derivative. The reader has espied references to "Jane Eyre", "Wuthering Heights" and "Rebecca", and when Vida begins the tale of her life story "The Turn of the Screw" and "The Woman in White" come instantly to mind. Just as a precaution though, to really hammer it home, Setterfield mentions four of these books in the narrative; in fact there are continual rather irritating refences to "Jane Eyre". It is a leitmotif, and evidently Setterfield wants to pay homage to the Brontes, but more subtle references would have been more enjoyable for the reader.

As the novel proceeds the reader develops more of an interest in the retelling of Vida Winter's story as well as her It is a complicated tale over three generations, including love, loss, betrayal, masochism, torture, mental anguish, death and committal to an asylum. Because of the narrative style however, it is very easy to read. The writing flows smoothly and hypnotically, drawing you into the tale much as Vida Winter's books were said to draw the reader into her invented worlds. The evocative descriptions still stand out:

"On the moors, enraged by the wind and embittered by the chill, the rain was vicious. Needles of ice stung my face and behind me, vessels of freezing water burst against my shoulders."

Or these powerful pictures of a disoriented mind:

"All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes - characters even - caught in the fibres of your clothes, and when you open the new book they are still with you."

"this piece of reality has been lost. My memory of what happened… is fragmented. Whole tracts of time have collapsed in on themselves, whilst other events seem in my recollection to have happened over and over again in rapid succession."

Part are pure melodrama:

This gothic novel is an enjoyable quick read. It is however very melodramatic; a novel of sensation. A reader who has not thrilled to "The Turn of the Screw" or been caught up in sensationalist Bronte effects may well not enjoy this novel. Because of the explicit references to earlier classic gothic novels, the reader has to assume this is a tribute to them, rather than a pastiche or unconscious imitation. In the end though, one feels that there is little originality or credibility. The reader deduces that it is set in the recent past. However the viewpoint character is scarcely believable in a modern age. Such hysteria surely belongs to an earlier age when women wore their corsets too tight. (This has been put forward as a valid reason for many medical and behavioural problems.) Old does not inevitably have to be grotesque; neither does deformity. Some of the secondary characters such as Aurelius, John-the-dig or "the missus", are stereotypical characters with no depth. However the story is competent and engaging; it has been put together ingeniously, there is an unexpected "reveal" near the end, and parts of it are beautifully written. It has a hypnotic quality and lovely narrative flow. This is the author's first novel, and promises well if she stops being so rooted in the gothic canon and makes a bold leap into the unknown and the supernatural she is clearly so drawn to.
February 28, 2022
Five enchanting stars for a beautifully told story about a famous author who is about to reveal the final tale from a collection of successful novels, the thirteenth one. The missing one. Her own story.

Atmospheric, dramatic, and possessing all the magic needed to grip the reader, the Thirteenth Tale is a beautiful story that captures the violent and tragic life of Vida Winter’s. However, in telling her story, the striking similarity to the life of Margaret Lea is also unveiled. The woman she has commissioned to write her autobiography.

A story that is told with such elegance and simplicity, yet full of so many twists and surprises for the reader. A tale that is immersive, powerful, and even theatrical and well worth putting on your reading list.

The Plot

“A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth…. Silence is not a natural environment for stories. They need words. Without them they grow pale, sicken and die. And then they haunt you”.

These are the words from a woman about to tell her story, as Vida Winters, commissions biographer Margaret Lea to finally write her truth. The truth about her life, her mistakes, her home, family, twin, and all the stories and secrets held within.

Day after day, episode after episode, Vida revealed the extraordinary life she led, the darker moments that she found painful to discuss. The baby removed from the perambulator and left carelessly to die or be found. The ghost and the devasting fire, the violence in the topiary garden, and the attacks on Emmeline. All laid bare though one thing was certain, one of the twins was not quite right, everyone knew it.

Review and Comments

A wonderful book with such charm and intrigue, created by the fascinating stories revealed within it. Their purpose, their message and how they were connected was as much a mystery as the stories themselves and took me on such a mesmerising and curious journey. The nightmares of a lonely child?. Fairy tales appropriated by a hungry mind for a story, or the fantasies of an imaginative little girl anxious to explain to herself the inexplicable. Whatever the purpose, it did conjure up a feeling of anticipation that had me gripped and totally immersed. Even the meandering landscape and setting of Angelfield House created the perfect ambiance for a tale that was steeped with so much mystery, thrill, and secrecy.

“There are too many books in the world to read in a single lifetime; you have to draw the line somewhere.”, but this one gladly made it onto my list. With elegant prose, deeply drawn characters, and with the storyline so skilfully woven this spellbinding book can be nothing but a five-star read.

Profile Image for Julie .
4,079 reviews59k followers
July 17, 2017
This one of my favorite books. I don't re-read books very often. This is one of the few that would make the list. This book has been reviewed about 3000 times, so I'm not going to add more to the pile. I will just stay I recommend this book to all book lovers no matter what genre you prefer. A+
Profile Image for Rachel Burton.
Author 11 books192 followers
December 16, 2021
When I first read this in 2007 I thought it was one of the best books I'd ever read. I met with it again in 2021 with a little trepidation. Would it live up to the hype in my head? The answer is yes. It is still astonishing.
Profile Image for Jen.
135 reviews224 followers
August 26, 2021
No usual lengthy review for this one. It’s been out for 15 years and the top reviews (both positive and negative) have nailed it. There is nothing more for me to add, except perhaps that if ever there was a character that needed Cher from Moonstruck to come tell her to “snap out of it”, my goodness it was Margaret. Gurl, it's your reflection, not a ghost. Give it a rest...
Profile Image for Alex.andthebooks.
326 reviews1,962 followers
December 11, 2021
Nawet nie jestem w stanie wyrazić słowami jak bardzo kocham tę książkę. Nie potrafię.

Jest wspaniała.
Profile Image for Lindsay L.
679 reviews1,323 followers
March 28, 2017
2 stars. I really, really wanted to like this book more than I did. Unfortunately, I finished it with a sense of disappointment.

My interest wavered throughout the novel, going on a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. Unfortunately, there were more downs than ups.

The book started off with a bang! I was thrilled to have the feeling of settling into a well-written historical fiction/family drama/mystery, my absolute favourite genre combination. Sadly, this feeling was short-lived. After the first quarter of the book, the story got very 'strange', for lack of a better term. The strangeness wasn't to do with the talk of ghosts, it was the actual stories themselves. One of the main characters, Vida Winter, was telling her biographer her back story which was filled with several absurd childhood situations and peculiar stories, none of which sat well with me. During these scenes, I really lost interest and had to work hard to plug through and keep myself focused. Often I found it hard to talk myself into picking this book back up to continue reading. Several of the characters were extremely unlikable.

What I liked about the book was the bookshop and library atmospheres. The author, Diane Setterfield, did a fabulous job of making me feel as though I were right in these rooms with the characters. I also enjoyed that this was essentially a book about books and book lovers.

I will finish with some quotes that captivated me (all of these from the first 25 pages).

"There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic."

"Though my appetite for food grew frail, my hunger for books was constant."

"The hours between eight in the evening and one or two in the morning have always been my magic hours. Against the blue candle-wick bedspread the white pages of my open book, illuminated by a circle of lamplight, were the gateway to another world."
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,018 reviews1,185 followers
November 4, 2021
This book is a love letter to books, writers, readers, bookshops, Jane Eyre, Daphné du Maurier, moors and fog. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that I didn’t write it.

I will collect my thoughts and my feels and write a more detailed review when I know where to even begin with this awesome book.

While you wait, go get a copy and read it.
OK, I have calmed down enough to write about this book without flying into a nonsensical, barely articulate rave.

Setterfield’s prose is seductive, evocative and enthralling. I read the book in two days, on a recliner by the lake while we were staying at my in-law’s cottage. I gulped it down greedily, like a particularly fine wine, only putting the book down when the gorgeousness of the writing made me too blissfully dizzy and I needed a little break. Yes, it’s that good.

I’ve loved books with a passion my whole entire life. They have been the constant source of happiness in my life, the comfortable place I could go when I was tired, sick, lonely or sad. “The Thirteenth Tale” reminded me why I adore books as much as I do, the same way “Shadow of the Wind” did. It takes storytelling to a whole new level of masterful. The Gothic atmosphere, the build-up of suspense, family secrets, the creepy old house, broken characters who are cruel because they are wounded animals…

It’s never clear when “The Thirteenth Tale” takes place. My best guess is second half of the 20th century, but that’s as precise as I can get. People still write letters, no one has cellphones, people wear hats (I miss hats, let’s bring them back in style, please!), doctors make house calls. A reclusive, crotchety, very famous writer, Vida Winter, invites an amateur biographer, Margaret Lea, to write her story before she passes away. Her TRUE story… The one she has never told anyone before. As Mrs. Winter’s strange tale unravels, Margaret sees parallels between the secrets she is being told and the ones her own family harbors…

Besides the fact that this is a nearly perfect book, with beautiful prose and a gripping mystery, you don’t really need to know anything else.

I wish I had a doctor who could have made this diagnosis on me: “You are suffering from an ailment that affects ladies of romantic imaginations. Symptoms include fainting, weariness, loss of appetite, low spirits. While on one level the crisis can be ascribed to wandering about in freezing rain without the benefit of adequate waterproofing, the deeper cause is more likely to be found in some emotional trauma. However, unlike the heroines of your favorite novels, your constitution has not been weakened by the privations of life in earlier, harsher centuries. No tuberculosis, no childhood polio, no unhygienic living conditions. You'll survive. (…) Prescription: 'Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. Take ten pages, twice a day, til end of course.”

Actually, I wish I was that doctor! Recommended for bookworms. All of them. But especially those who love the Bronte sisters.
Profile Image for Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh.
167 reviews511 followers
July 14, 2014
Amazing for a debut! While a homage to classic gothic novels no need to be a fan - pick it up if you’re into mysteries with plenty of psychological twists, ambiance and above all – suspense! Setterfield excels in the slow build, at stringing you along, feeding you morsels bit by tantalizing bit…almost toys with you until you grow impatient, at least I did. About 1/3 of the way in I reconciled myself to the fact that she insisted on setting her own pace and simply would not be rushed. That’s when I relaxed, immersed myself in this tragic tale of arson, incest, insanity, abandonment, and murder.
Great premise, picture someone like J.K. Rowling on her deathbed choosing you to reveal her deepest darkest secrets too, you get the idea☺ Amateur biographer Margaret is hired by reclusive world-famous author Vita Winter to chronicle her life, an author who's perfected writing fiction, keeping secrets, mastered deception.
“My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.”
Terrific dialog, a host of intriguing characters; Hester as the “dumpy, potato-faced, provincial governess” a standout.

Cons: Compared to Vita’s tale Margaret’s felt like clutter. I did like the contrast of temperaments, the pitting of wills. Plus the resolution was a little too pat.

For the genre of gothic suspense 4 ½ stars. Read on the heels of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a smooth as silk transition that so worked for me I’m rounding this up to a 5.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,224 followers
February 6, 2017
I can’t remember why I bought this and it’s probably not fair that I rate it because at times I felt like I was reading a novel in a language I don’t understand. The best way I can think of describing it is Bronte fan fiction. At times it felt more like a product than a labour of love. The biggest problem for me was the question of how seriously I was supposed to take this novel. Just a bit of light-hearted fun with its constant smoking mirrors and playfully preposterous premises? But maybe there’s an argument that novels like this trivialise the genius of Emily Bronte. There’s also the baffling question of why many people who love the Brontes and Jane Austen are also eager to read countless contemporary spin-offs, cover versions of these classic novels. One of the reader questions at the end is how this sits beside the novels that inspired it. That to me is like asking how a contestant on X Factor sits beside the artists – say, Marvin Gaye or David Bowie - whose songs she or he covered on the programme. Ultimately I just asked myself why I didn’t spend my time much more fruitfully by rereading Wuthering Heights.
Profile Image for Debbie "DJ".
352 reviews403 followers
October 20, 2015
Here I am, looking at other reviews to figure out what genre this is. So, this is Gothic suspense? WOW! I was guessing mystery, but with so much atmosphere, it seeped into my bones! What an incredible book!

This was a 15 hour audio book, and due to life circumstances, I was not able to listen continuously. What I can say is that every time I listened, I was completely drawn into another world.

It is the story of a famous recluse writer, Vida Winters. She is an invalid now, but has one final tale to tell. One that was missing from a previous book which stated it had thirteen tales, but only contained twelve. And so, it is a tale the world has been waiting to hear. Her choice of a biographer is that of an unknown bookstore owner, one who she has sent a letter, one who simply receiving any letter is an event. Could their lives be connected in unknown ways? All of the mysteries in this book expand, the layers go deeper. It was impossible not to follow each word through every door. And that's exactly what it felt like. The writing is so exquisite that I would follow it anywhere.

The book begins, "You want to know someone heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about where he was born. What you get won't be the truth. It will be a story, and nothing is more telling than a story." And so, Vita Winters is enticing me with story, stating, "a good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth." But, the truth has become a bully in her mind. It must be told.

I loved this story so much I will be buying the book. I must have those words in writing, for they are truly...dazzling!

Profile Image for Russell.
306 reviews15 followers
January 19, 2021
Dear god. I listened to this abortion of a story in the car last weekend. It was so awful that words cannot describe how idiotic it was. Contrived doesn't begin to describe it. Melodrama on top of melodrama. Secret family members. Ghosts. The main character fainting at the drop of a hat. Ugh, I wanted every last character to die screaming. If this is what people read (and apparently there are people who actually enjoyed this catastrophe, in fact it has a higher rating than some Cormac McCarthy novels on here) then we, as a species are lost. Jesus, I can't say enough bad things about this book. Light it on fire and let's never speak of it again.
Profile Image for PopiTonja.
97 reviews11 followers
April 18, 2023
Danas nisam živela svoj život, danas sam živela život Margaret Li.
Odavno me knjiga nije ščepala kao ova. Na početku je bila samo lepa, topla, pitka... uljuljkavala me je nežno poput deteta... uživala sam... A onda je klupko počelo da se odmotava, priča me je razbudila i povukla sa sobom, želela sam još i još i još... Pohlepno sam tražila to „još“ kroz rečenice i stranice, nisam mogla da se oduprem želji da što pre saznam svaku pojedinost, detalj, pogledam u svaku ispisanu sliku, da saznam istinu i konačno otkrijem trinaestu priču.

„Poznajete li onaj osećaj kad počnete da čitate novu knjigu pre nego što je opna prethodne stigla da se zatvori za vama? Prethodnu knjigu napuštate sa idejama, temom i motivima – čak i s likovima zatočenim u samom tkanju vaše odeće, pa su i pošto otvorite novu knjigu, još tu, sa vama.“

Da, Margaret, upravo prolazim kroz taj „knjiški mamurluk“ i osećam ga u svakoj ćeliji svog bića. Započeću i završiti još mnogo knjiga, ali će ova ostati da tinja u meni zauvek.
Profile Image for Mary Beth .
383 reviews1,768 followers
May 13, 2015
Wow! I was really surprised how much I loved this book. There are a lot of mixed reviews and it seems to me that people either. Hated it or loved it and I was afraid that I was going to be one of those that hated it. I love the Gothic Suspense genre and this book definitely is a classic so this was not the case. I loved it more than I ever thought I would. I feel that those that hated it just do not like the gothic suspense genre.

The. Best adjective to describe this book would be mysterious. Vida Winters and all the other characters are all very mysterious. If you liked Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier I would say that you will love this book. It is similar to this book.

This book is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Vida Winter who is a famous author requests for Margaret Lee to write her biography Margaret Lee at first refrains because she has only written biographies of dead literary figures but then decides to do it. The author has always kept her mysterious past a secret from her millions of fans and the biographer is about to find out why? As the story unfolds Margaret discovers what they have in common and why she is chosen to write the biography.

There is a lot of gothic atmosphere brewing throughout this book. The book discusses other books like Jayne Eyre, The Woman in White, and Wuthering Heights. I loved the twins Emmeline and Adeline, this is just a way to describe them which is written word by word in the book. "The twins were odd. There were no two ways about it. They were strange all the way through into their very hearts."

I also noticed that things happened in threes, throughout
this book.

Pick this book up if you are into mysteries with psychological twists and ambiance and above all suspense. This is tragic tale of arson, incest,insanity, abandonment and murder.

Profile Image for Margitte.
1,178 reviews532 followers
April 9, 2017
Margaret Lea never imagined the outcome when she, as a devoted modern, bibiophile, living with her parents on top of their book store, wrote a biographical essay, The Fraternal Muse on the Landier brothers, for a hardback collection of essays on writing and the family in the nineteenth century. She was a diletante, talented amateur in the company of professional and academic writers.

A is for Austen, B is for Brontë, C is for Charles and D is for Dickens. That is how she learned to read and write. The book store was her everything.

The second floor was her favorite place of discovery. It was where the Nineteenth-century literature was found: biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, diaries and letters of people gone a long time ago. And by opening and reading a few pages of all the books in the shelves, looking for something missing in herself, she gave all these people a chance to be alive again, even if it was only through their words. Being dead could be very lonely, she thought. Reading could be dangerous as well. She learnt that lesson early in life when she was sitting on a wall, reading, and fell off when she relaxed her muscles too much. From then on she always chose a secure, safe position to sit down when opening a book.

She had to be with the deceased. It was an urge, a need, an instinct.
P. 19: People disappear when they die. Their voices, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humour, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is kind of magic.
As a ten-year-old, she discovered an old tin underneath a bed which changed her life forever. She discovered the reason why she wanted to give a voice to the deceased.
P. 9: There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner.
A letter from Britain's most famous author, Vida Winter, invited her to write the author's biography.

All through her life, Vida Winter entertained journalists with various versions of her life story. None of them were ever the same.
P.5: I have nothing against people who love truth. Apart from the fact that they make dull companions. Just so long as they don't start on about storytelling and honesty the way some of them do. Naturally that annoys me. Provided they leave me alone, I won't hurt them.
And now, suddenly after all these years, she wanted Margaret Lea, in particular, to write down the real truth - the one story she could never share, the story that needed to come alive for the dead to rest in peace...
P. 66: The story is not only mine; it is the story of Angelfield. Angelfield the village. Angelfield the house. And the Angelfied family itself. George and Mathilda; their children, Charlie and Isabelle; Isabelle's children, Emmeline and Adeline. Their house, their fortunes, their fears. And their ghost. One should always pay attention to ghosts...
The biography turned out to be an elongated, painful confession.
How many times have I gone back to the border of memory and peered into the darkness beyond? But it is not only memories that hover on the border there. There are all sorts of phantamasgoria that inhabit that realm. The nightmares of a lonely child. Fairytales appropriated by a mind hungry for story. The fantasies of an imaginative little girl anxious to explain to herself the inexplicable. Whatever story I may have discovered on the frontier of forgetting, I do not pretend to myself that it is the truth.'

'All children mythologize their birth.'
Margaret Lea became more than just a biographer.
"I'm going to tell you a story about twins" Miss Winter said that first night in her library. Words that with their unexpected echo of my own story attached me irresistibly to hers."
She needed to become Sherlock Holmes to unravel the haunted history of the old mansions and its inhabitants. In the process, her own life story would entwine with that of Miss Winter's, and in one moment of vertiginous, kaleidoscopic bedazzlement, she would finally take the fragmented and the broken and mend it, tidy it up and put it in order. The chaos and clutter would be banished, doubt will be replaced with certainty, shadows with clarity, lacunae with substance. Everything was put in place before the wolf came to collect, but only because the diary of the governess, miss Hester Barrow , was discovered...

Finally, The Thirteenth Tale could be told: the final, the famous, the unfinished story. But it would be Vida Winter herself who wrote it. Although she was the only one who could bring the deceased alive again, Miss Margaret Lea was the only person who understood where it was coming from.

COMMENTS. It is certainly one of the most mesmerizing and gripping tales I have read in a very long time. And one of the best in the suspense thriller genre, for sure. While reading the book, I was constantly thinking about Manderley, the mansions, in Rebecca(Daphne Du Maurier). The gothic elements in Jane Eyre(Charlotte Brontë) - which features very strongly in the narrative, changed this book into a modern version of the old classics, such as The Woman In White( Wilkie Collins); Wuthering Heights(Emily Brontë); Rebecca(Daphne Du Maurier), and The Turn Of The Screw (Henry James).

I simply cannot recommend this book high enough. A story of books and haunted houses. What a fabulous combination. ;-)

There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. - You have been warned!

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305 reviews166 followers
January 14, 2017
I hate not to finish reading a book I've started, so I went on and finished it fast. Sigh. I really wanted to like The Thirteenth Tale, for one I was reading with my friend Vessey. Besides that, there was a lot in the story for me to enjoy: an antiquarian bookstore; a lonely protagonist whose best friends are books, plus a secondary character who is a mysterious, isolated writer. And some nice passages, like:
"There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work magic."

But it was not enough. It might be me, but the story simply fell flat and I found myself either upset to read about how abandoned the twins were (as a mother that did not come easy) or wondering about everything else but the pages in front of me. I'm sorry Ms. Setterfield.
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