Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Genres: Adult fiction, mystery, historical fiction.

Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise–she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels. Read more…

Spoiler note: This review does not contain spoilers.
The only thing I knew about The Thirteenth Tale was that it was about books and narrated by a booklover. This alone encouraged me to pick it up. It’s described as “historical fiction” and although we’re not told when the story takes place, there is a historical feel to it that’s really similar to The Little Stranger or Jane Eyre. It’s also described as a Gothic novel, which is unfamiliar to me but I found it easy to become absorbed in the narrative and the way it is told.

The Thirteenth Tale made me feel as if I was being told a story, rather than just reading a book. I’d describe the reading experience as cosy and comfortable. Stories is also an important theme in the novel seeing as the main character (Margaret Lea) is hired by a bestselling author (Vida Winter) to write her biography – a story that no one has ever been told before but has been trying to unveil for years. The mystery aspect of the book – the story within a story – also captured my interest. We’re catapulted into the past and attempt to piece together how the stories of the twins Adeline and Emmeline, their uncle Charlie, and mother Isabelle, amongst other secondary, but no less important, characters fit together to provide us, and Margaret, with the truth.

The Thirteenth Tale is also wonderfully written and this was my favourite aspect of the book. It really is just beautiful. There’s many quotable lines and passages that you find yourself reading more than once, just to experience them again.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale. It has everything you could want in a story – mystery, intrigue, fascinating characters, combined with impeccable writing. This might be a little controversial as I know how protective people can be about their favourite novels, but I’d love the novel to be made into a film or television drama. I saw the recent adaptation of Jane Eyre and thought it was really well done and captured the atmosphere perfectly. I bet The Thirteenth Tale would work just as well on screen.

“A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.”

My Rating: ★★★★
Read as part of Adult Fiction Month

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

  1. Anna says:

    I think this is probably one of my favorite books. I’m glad you liked it!

    I agree about it being wonderfully written. It was so lyrical, I wanted to read a lot of it aloud to myself, haha.

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