Diane Setterfield’s debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, is an eerie story. It gave me goosebumps and had me wishing I was not alone at home that night. Another book for book lovers, I managed to get through it in record time (for these days) of just over a day. I had to keep turning the pages, fighting sleep at night because I needed to find out what had happened. Because this is a story of the past as much as story of the present and the future.
There are very clear glimpses of Rebecca – a presence in the house that is felt, but never seen. Jane Eyre is also a strong influence here – both in the Gothic Victorian-ness of the story as well as by making an appearance in the plot itself.
Quick synopsis: Vida Winter is a famous novelist who has managed to hide her real story from the world by making up different versions of it every time she was asked. She hires a little-known biographer Margaret Lea to finally chronicle her fantastic story. We enter a world of twisted adventures, unstable adults, poverty, neglect and, of course, mystery. The plot is beautifully woven and kept me guessing for some time into the story. (There are clues, of course and motifs that run through the plot – which you will pick up on). This is a mystery novel that expertly takes you through a Gothic world and has you wondering if the ghosts are metaphorical or “real”.
As befits a story about books and writing, many old all-time favourites like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Sense and Sensibility, Sherlock Holmes make their appearances. The homage to them is clear and so is the author’s love of these books and their worlds. Diane Setterfield is an artful storyteller who fills this novel with fluid language and eccentric characters that make the book a more than interesting read. Definitely recommended.