Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Title: The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel
Classification: Adult Fiction
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Mystery
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Washington Square Press (October 9, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0743298039
ISBN-13: 978-0743298032
Author's Website:
Notes: Library Loan

"Do you believe in ghosts?"

Vida Winter is one of the most famous authors of the day. Her most talked about and best known book is her first, which was originally entitled Thirteen Tales. Curiously, when the book went to publication, there were only twelve tales included and the name was changed to Tales of Change and Desperation. When Ms. Winters approaches Margaret Lea to write her biography, Margaret is unsure if she'll take on the task. Most of the biographies she writes are of voices from the past who are no longer living. But Ms. Winter's letter intrigues her enough to meet with the author and consider it. In her letter, Vida Winters confesses to having never told the truth about her past. Being a story teller, she did what story tellers do best--she made up stories, but none of them were ever true.

"I had my reasons for creating a smoke screen around my past. Those reasons, I assure you, are no longer valid."

 Now, being ill  with death knocking on her door, she's decided to finally tell her tale...

"I am going to tell you a story--a marvelous story!"(...)

"Once upon a time there was a haunted house---"(...)

"Once upon a time there was a library--"(...)

"Once upon a time there were twins--"


This was a very fun story and a great book club read. From the very beginning, we realize that Vida Winter is an unreliable source. Margaret makes it very clear that if she chooses to take on the task of writing Vida's story, she needs the writer to be honest with her. Margaret is already acquainted with research because that is how she mainly gains information about the people she usually writes biographies about. She tells Vida that before she decides whether or not to take on the task, Vida must disclose three things about herself that she can verify. If she's telling the truth, Margaret will most likely write the biography. 

As Vida begins her tale, it becomes clear she is utilizing her signature story telling techniques. She requests that Margaret let her tell her story in the order she wishes and not ask questions until the end. But because of the three questions to be asked, Vida states, "I shall have to break one of my rules (...) I shall have to tell you the end of my story before I tell you the beginning." (...) "My story--my personal story--ended before my writing began. Storytelling has only ever been a way of filling in the time since everything finished." 

The story that is told is intriguing and questions arise from the very start. A masterful storyteller never mentions anything that isn't significant and we begin to wonder about people who are quickly disregarded after they've been mentioned. Changes in the narrative use of pronouns make us wonder why she's so inconsistent. Clues saturate the story and I'm positive that if I reread the book I'd find more clues than I found in my first sitting. The thing to remember is no detail, no matter how seemingly insignificant it may be, should be dismissed. Take note when something odd happens. More than likely it's a clue.

I absolutely adored this tale and gave it 5 out of 5 roses. I felt like the author was interacting with me throughout the story. I kept hoping to figure out the mystery before the end, but alas it was not meant to be. I love it when I can't piece the clues together before the big reveal. I admit I got close with some things, but as they say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. I challenge you to see if you can figure out what is going on before the end. I rather doubt you will. I highly recommend this one. It's a fun read that challenges the reader to solve the mystery before the answers are revealed.

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