I can’t believe this book was published in 2006 and I just read it now! Where has it been? Where was I? Diane Setterfield’s debut novel grabbed me from the opening sentence, and never let go.
The Thirteenth Tale is a British mystery with so many interesting and fun elements I don’t know where to start. On the surface, it is the story of a young woman, Margaret Lea, who works in her father’s antiquarian bookshop. Margaret is well-read, intelligent, but socially awkward. While close with her father, Margaret has a strained relationship with her mother. Margaret amuses herself by writing short biographies of some of the lesser-knows authors whose works she has read.
One day, Margaret receives a long, hand-written letter from Vida Winter, a novelist. The reclusive and mysterious Winter is aging and very ill. In her 50+ years as a best-selling author, Winter has never told the truth about her background. She offers Margaret a large sum of money to write her story. Margaret must leave her comfortable home and travel to Winter’s isolated estate in Yorkshire. She will live with Winter while hearing her life story. There are, of course, conditions attached to the offer.
Margaret has never read any of Winter’s books, preferring 19th century novelists. Before accepting this commission, Margaret begins reading, and is immediately drawn in by Winter’s unique story-telling style. Most intriguing is Winter’s debut novel. Margaret reads a copy of this book, titled Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, which she finds in her father’s storeroom. Upon finishing the twelfth tale, the book ends. Margaret’s father explains that the book only contains twelve tales. They own the only known copy of the re-called first edition. All other published copies are simply called Tales of Change and Desperation.
This engaging story contains so many fascinating elements. It is a tale of a crazy family, twins, an addled housekeeper, a strange topiary garden, incest, and a fire. And more! It is a great mystery, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing until the very end.
Published in hardcover-Atria Books-2006
Softcover edition-WashingtonSquare Press-2007