Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale: A Review

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Once upon a time, prolific fictional author Vida Winter wrote a book of thirteen tales.  Curiously, only twelve made it into print. Ever since that slip, the world at large has beat upon the door to Miss Winter's seemingly non-existant past, trying to discern the meaning of the missing thirteenth tale. Over the long years, she has successfully rebuffed every attempt. However, as Miss Winter slides into old age she is aware that the truth must out. Readers are ushered through the deep mystery surrounding her life by a similary haunted writer, the biographer Margaret Lea.

Raised in a book shop, Margaret is above all a lover of stories. So when the famed Vida Winter writes her a compelling letter offering to expose her mystery-shrouded life for the first time, Margaret cannot resist the temptation. Miss Winter's craftily worded narratives pull Margaret back through the decades to the older woman's previous identity.  Margaret is sucked into an investigation that will bring forth a harrowing revelation indeed. The devestating realities of the two writers demonstrates that the truth of our own lives, which we so often run away from, can be the greatest and most important story we'll ever tell.

Setterfield writes, "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," and through her own brilliant novel she proves this to be true.  We are gripped from the first line and held captive until the last. Setterfield's characters are impatient guides pulling us through an intricate maze of ghost stories and misleading truths, only allowing us to gather our bearings when we have arrived at the bittersweet end of her tale. The book is magnificently penned. Phrases are so well turned and words so carefully chosen that we cannot help but take pause to admire their beauty; scenes are cut and reopened with such skill that we cannot help but rush ahead to discover the ever illusive truth. The Thirteenth Tale, pulsing with so many years of repressed pain and memory, refuses to be easily forgotten, haunting us like the many ghosts of her heroines' pasts.


  1. Ooohh, I LOVED this book! It was so wonderful! Glad you enjoyed it too!

  2. This book had me at "feral twins." I LOVED this, and may need to reread it again soon. Dark, mysterious and fun - just like a good fairytale should be.

  3. I am already knee deep in my second book since this one, and I still can't get it out of my head. I have an ongoing internal debate about which woman did what when and whether it was out of true malice or lack of understanding... I have a feeling this will be a reread for me. I love love loved it!

  4. This book has been sitting on one of my shelves for... well, forever and a day waiting for me to read it. After this review though, I'm all over it... Okay, I'll be all over it just as soon as I get done reading The Girl Who Played with Fire. :)

  5. i've had this book in my amazon shopping cart for as long as i can remember because it sounded really good, but every time i make an order i push it to the "save for later" section. after this, i'm thinking i should just get it already.

  6. Setephanie Ann: I need to finish The Girl Who Played With Fire. I read half of it while in Germany last summer, but when I made it home I didn't pack it, and I sort of forgot about it. I'm thinking I'll just start it over...

    Sarah: You should totally get it. I've been putting off reading this one since last year, and now I really really wish I hadn't. It's one of my favorites, for sure.

  7. I liked that book, but it's not one of my favourites. I had read Kate Moss prior to this book and may have gotten into the habit of guessing all the secrets and anticipating a twist so there were no surprises for me here.


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