Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Thirteenth Tale ~ Diane Setterfield

Don't forget to enter my giveaway!  I'll be announcing the winner on Friday!

Operation: catch up on blog posts commences.  The Thirteenth Tale is one of those books that I vaguely intended to read for years, mostly because I see it all the time in bookstores and, well, exposure advertising - it's effective.  I finally got around to it this semester when I was desperate for audiobooks to keep me conscious on the drive to my internship three times per week.  It did the job - I didn't fall asleep at the wheel once - and I enjoyed most of it.  In the end, though, I didn't love it nearly as much as my constant exposure to it suggested that I should.

So, Margaret Lea is the daughter of a bookseller and a reader and biographer of old dead writers who DOES NOT EVER read modern literature.  She also had a conjoined twin who died in infancy after they were separated and a mom who never got over it.  One day, this SUPER-FAMOUS modern writer, Vida Winter, invites Margaret to write her biography and it has ALL the (slightly anachronistic) drama.  Vida Winter is also a twin and descended from some higher-up British not-quite royalty folks who got rather incestuous and mentally ill as time progressed.  Vida and her twin were apparently horribly neglected as children, and she was wild and evil and her sister was stupid and gentle.  Then Margaret meets a (big) friendly giant and secrets are revealed.  Everyone dies in the past story and then there's a big twist!  And then nearly everybody dies in the current story.  I feel like this makes no sense.

So, in general I liked this book, particularly the bits about reading.  The book is clearly meant to appeal to readerly-readers - not those casual folks who only read Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray and then only do it because they don't have better plans for the evenings, but for those of us who consider reading to be a main activity in and of itself and who seek out obscure books and tell anecdotes about reading as children*.  There were lots of quotes, particularly at the beginning, about reading that I totally identified with, particularly one point when Margaret is reading a book and starts getting anxious because she can feel that the right side of the book is getting awfully thin - I know that exact feeling and understood what her anxiety was before she explained it.  So that was all well and good.

Then there's Vida Winter's backstory, which was relatively interesting and revealed the author's love for dark Victorian literature, except that it was hard to tell when the book was set so I wasn't sure if it was out of it's time.  For the most part, that part was good too except for the over-the-top literary references (e.g. "A woman in white rose from the sofa" or some such obvious nonsense).  The characters were mostly twisted but enjoyable and the whole time I was shouting for child protective services because 10-year olds should be able to talk for goodness' sake.

So the story's unfolding and it's vaguely mysterious but not enough so for me to be telling my husband my theories so that I could prove to him that I was right later on even though he never read it (yeah, I have issues) and then all of the sudden there is a GIANT TWIST that is clearly meant to make all the pieces fall into places except mostly I was just like, "Well.  That's weird."  I remember it kind of maybe very vaguely being hinted at before but not enough so for the big reveal to be anything more than a random turn.  So that brought down the story a bit.

Overall, it was a good story, but not the modern-day Victorian classic that it wanted to be.  As boring as it sounds, I would have preferred more of Margaret's readerly musings and less of the trying-too-hard subplot.  But that's just me.

*When I was a kid, my mom would take me to run errands on the weekend.  The first stop was always the bookstore, where I would get a new book, immediately bury my nose in it, and spend the rest of the day docilely following my mother around while reading.  She never understood how I never tripped or fell down.  And I have loads more of those stories.  I'm sure you do too.


  1. Things I love and books and book blogging: two people reading the same book and having different reactions. I was very meh on the book overall but I especially haaaated all of the Margaret scenes. Mostly because I haaaated Margaret. I wasn't in love with Vida's story either though the line about how the beginning of your life is really just the continuation of someone else's has stuck with me. Not sure why exactly.

    1. Another thing to love about book blogging: that two people can totally respect each other's different opinions and still have a conversation about it. (!)

      I actually didn't like Margaret all that much either, I just liked her musings on reading because I have the same musings.

      That line is really compelling. We all think about our stories as being about ourselves (duh) but there are soooo many other factors, which is what makes them so interesting. She makes a great observation.