The Thirteenth Tale
By Diane Setterfield
The Thirteenth Tale is about ghosts, what haunts people in their worst moments, personal regrets, and most of all, it is a story about a story.
Margaret Lea is an amateur biographer who works with her father at their antiquarian bookstore. She is called upon by England’s most beloved and well-known writer, Vida Winter, to write her biography. Vida has never told her story to anyone and no one knows anything about her personal life thanks to Vida herself who leads everyone, who dares to ask a personal question, astray. She explains to Margaret her plans to tell her the story of Vida Winter — it will be done properly, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. What comes forth is a story of Gothic proportions, strange unbelievable characters, and a story that is both disturbing and beautiful. Over the weeks she spends listening to Vida’s story, Margaret finds that she has more in common with the enigmatic writer than she ever thought possible. The connection pulls her deeply into the story, a story she almost doesn’t quite believe.
This book is a story within a story. The title of the book itself is a reference to an written tome of Vida’s that fans wish that she would write and it is Margaret that gets to hear the story but it is not what she, or anyone, would ever think of. There are parallels between the author and biographer — both Margaret and Vida are recluses in their own ways, each retreating into a world full of books and stories all while hiding for fear of reviving a ghost that has long remained dormant.
In the end, Setterfield tells you a new tale and everything you thought about these characters is once more thrown into the realm of mystery. The gaps are closed but not in the way you expect and you don’t feel cheated but something like closure for the characters. While I did really enjoy this book, there are a few awkward and disturbing moments that can be a big turnoff for some readers which I think can make this a love it or hate book. I was able to push through those parts and for me it became a fascinating story of a life no one knew was lived.