The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is a gothic suspense novel, the author's first published book. Vida Winter, a famous novelist in England, has evaded journalists' questions about her past, refusing to answer their inquiries and spinning elaborate tales that they later discover to be false. Her entire life is a secret: and, for over fifty years, reporters and biographers have tried innumerable methods in an attempt to extract the truth from Winter. With her health quickly fading, Winter enlists Margaret Lea, a bookish amateur biographer, to hear her story and write her biography. With her own family secrets, Lea finds the process of unraveling the past for Winter bringing her to confront her own ghosts.
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The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is a gothic suspense novel, the author's first published book. Vida Winter, a famous novelist in England, has evaded journalists' questions about her past, refusing to answer their inquiries and spinning elaborate tales that they later discover to be false. Her entire life is a secret: and, for over fifty years, reporters and biographers have tried innumerable methods in an attempt to extract the truth from Winter.
With her health quickly fading, Winter enlists Margaret Lea, a bookish amateur biographer, to hear her story and write her biography. With her own family secrets, Lea finds the process of unraveling the past for Winter bringing her to confront her own ghosts.
The novel opens as Lea returns to her apartment above her father's antiquarian bookshop and finds a hand-written letter from Winter. It requests her presence at the author's residence and offers the chance to write Winter's life story before she succumbs to a terminal illness. Lea is surprised by the proposal, as she is only vaguely aware of the famous author and has not read any of the dozens of novels penned by Winter.
While considering the offer, Lea's curiosity prompts her to read her father's rare copy of Winter's Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is unexpectedly spellbound by the stories and confused when she realises the book contains only twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet with the ageing author—if only to discuss her reasons for not accepting the position as Winter's biographer.
During their meeting at Winter's home, Lea attempts to politely decline the offer and leave, but is stopped at the door by the pleas of the older woman. With promises of a ghost story involving twins, Winter desperately implores the bibliophile to reconsider. By the end of the encounter, Lea finds herself increasingly drawn to the story and proposes a conditional agreement to Winter; to earn the trust of her biographer, Vida Winter must supply her with three verifiable truths.
Somewhat reluctantly, the three secrets are extracted from their keeper. Afterwards, Winter and Lea begin their adventure into the past with; "Once upon a time there were two little girls As Vida Winter tells her story to Lea, she shares dark family secrets which have long been kept hidden. She recalls her days at Angelfield the estate that was her childhood home , which has since burned and been abandoned. Recording Winter's account the author allows no questions , Lea becomes completely immersed in the strange and troubling story.
In the end, both women have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets, as well as the ghosts that haunt them both. The title of the book is derived from a collection of short stories penned by Vida Winter entitled Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation ; the collection was supposed to contain a total of thirteen stories but was shortened to twelve at publication.
Though its title was appropriately amended and its cover eventually reprinted to read simply Tales of Change and Desperation , a small number of books were printed with the original title and the twelve stories. This small press run became a collector's item one of which Lea's father holds. Many of Winter's fans considered the omission of the thirteenth story a delightful mystery, and all wanted the answer to it. During the course of the story, Lea is asked more than once what she knows about the missing tale, and why it was never written.
At the novel's conclusion, Lea receives the long-awaited thirteenth tale as a parting gift from Vida Winter. The chapters of the book switch between the past and present day life of the two main characters Margaret Lea, Vida Winter. At the novel's inception, Lea divulges her work in her father's antique book store, her one-time jaunt as an amateur biographer, and her chance discovery at age 10 that she was born a conjoined twin, her sister dying shortly after their separation.
This discovery has caused her pain and provided a reason for longing she felt, and for her strained relationship with her mother, who became depressed and withdrawn after the twin's death. After the character of Vida Winter is introduced, she narrates sections of the book, in sessions with Lea in her library. Given Winter's detailed and vivid account of her past, Lea later finds it easy to write a narrative from her notes.
This becomes the biography that Winter commissioned from Lea. The story of Winter's history is at first written in third person past tense, but at a turning point in the story, when Charlie is missing, Winter suddenly uses the pronoun "I". This is explained later in the book when Lea understands all the secrets of the March family. The remainder of the book switches between Lea in the present, who tries to fight her own ghosts and discover the secret of the March family, and the story of the Marches seen through the eyes of Winter.
The switches between Lea's character narration and Winter's story is marked by a graphic that clearly show which character is narrating that section of the chapter. It is also made more obvious by the lack of dialogue. When the narrative is about the past, dialogue is rarely shown.
There is more dialogue when the story is located in the present; particularly between Lea and Aurelius. The Thirteenth Tale is a book which shifts between two main stories. The other is the story which Winter tells Lea. These two intertwined stories are occasionally interrupted by letters and notes of supporting characters. The change between the different sections in this book is indicated by a small graphic or an asterisk or a new chapter.
The Thirteenth Tale is told through a first-person point of view, commonly Margaret Lea's. In this way, the reader only knows what Lea knows, and is able to solve the mystery with her.
The first-person point of view also shifts to other characters, such as Vida Winter, who presents her own view through the story she tells Lea, and Hester Barrow, who presents her own view through the entries in her diary.
Vida Winter originally tells her story through a third-person point of view, but then changes to first person, which causes Lea to speculate about the truthfulness of her story.
This change is later explained in the book, when the idea of a cousin is introduced. Towards the end of the book it is found that Vida is half sister to the twins. Charles fathered Vida and the twins. Each section is introduced by a title page with the name of the section and a photograph which hints what will happen in that particular section of the book.
The 'Beginnings' title page has a photograph of two pairs of black-buckled shoes, like the shoes the little girls wear on the cover of the book.
Placed side by side, the pairs of shoes suggest similarity and bonds; they cause the reader to speculate about the theme of twins, as twins often wear matching clothing. The 'Middles' title page has a picture of a fancy doorknob on a slightly ajar door. The opening of the door represents the reader going further into the story, opening another door and proceeding and, in turn, revealing more secrets.
The 'Endings' title page is represented by a photograph of ripped pages of books, crumpled and folded over each other. Jane Eyre provides a link among all these characters, and the ripped pages indicate the ending of all their stories. Death is explored throughout the story; from the beginning to the end. In the very beginning, in Margaret's story, Margaret's conjoined twin sister died. In Vida Winter's story, Isabelle's mother died at childbirth, leaving her father, George, depressed.
He shut himself away in his room, leaving his children to the care of servants. If Isabelle's mother had not died, perhaps the family would not have been cursed. Isabelle may have grown up normally.
Charlie, the disturbed brother, may have improved his behaviour. The many deaths that occurred in The Thirteenth Tale build the story like bricks to a building. Each death determines what follows after.
The Missus interrupted George's isolation by giving him the baby Isabelle, who woke him to life again. He became overly attached to his daughter, denied her nothing and asked little of her. Isabelle was raised without order or routine. She would get food whenever she was hungry and grew up to become an unstable girl.
When she told him she was going to leave to marry Roland, he attacked Isabelle, and died from septicaemia because he wound a piece of her hair around his finger. The next death was Isabelle's, years later. She died from the flu in a mental institution. Her brother Charlie, who loved her, died next.
He followed in his father's footsteps by locking himself in his room. He left to go to a place where he used to go with Isabelle and shot himself. Leaving the family without a legal owner and financial manager of Angelfield, the Missus and John-the-dig were left to manage the family themselves.
The Missus died of a combination of old age and shock after part of the building collapsed, and John-the-dig died in a fall from a ladder, as he was trying to care for the deteriorating mansion. Adeline fiddled with the safety hatch when he was on the ladder. Adeline is purported to have died in the Angelfield house fire.
Emmeline died near the end at an old age, and Vida Winter let the 'wolf' inside of her win when she finished telling her story. The theme of death is mentioned by Margaret as something essential to a good book; that is, an old novel. The reason is simple: I prefer proper endings. Marriages and death This is the main theme of the book, with the key character Margaret feels like half a person; she discovers that her twin has died and she learns she was conjoined from the scar on her side confirmed by her father.
Loss recurs in Vida Winter's story of the twins, with Isabelle departing for a mental asylum, Charlie committing suicide, Hester Barrow disappearing, and John-the-dig and Missus dying.
Finally, at the end of the book, Vida Winter, known as the ghost of Angelfield House, loses her most beloved person, the twin thought to be Emmeline her half sister. Is a theme that was present in the last part of the book, when Margaret meets her missing half, her twin, and feels complete. Vida Winter was also re-united with her half sister in death at the end of the book.
Jane Eyre is frequently mentioned in the novel. Lea speculates about the connections between that novel and the lives of the Marches.
Hester, like Jane was a governess at a manor, employed by a wealthy master. Hester, like Jane, is the dominant female. But unlike Jane, Hester does not fall in love with the master of the house- Charlie. Charlie was not Edward Rochester and had never in the book met Hester. He kept out of her way and that suited both of them. She had no desire to do anything but her job, and her job was us. Our minds, our bodies, and our souls, yes, but our guardian was outside her jurisdiction, and so she left him alone.
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Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten. It was once home to the March family — fascinating, manipulative Isabelle, brutal, dangerous Charlie, and the wild, untamed twins, Emmeline and Adeline. But Angelfield House hides a chilling secret which strikes at the very heart of each of them, tearing their lives apart…. What has Angelfield been hiding? What is its connection with the enigmatic writer Vida Winter? As Margaret digs deeper, two parallel stories unfold, and the tale she uncovers sheds a disturbing light on her own life….
The Thirteenth Tale
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Diane Setterfield's debut novel arrived already wreathed in acclaim, and it's easy to see why. The Thirteenth Tale is a cleverly plotted, beautifully written homage to the classic romantic mystery novel. Rebecca and The Woman in White spring to mind, but especially Jane Eyre: a book that Setterfield weaves into the substance of the plot, and whose Gothic elements are skilfully reimagined in a peculiar tale of madness, murder, incest and dark secrets. Margaret Lea's life is devoted to the antiquarian bookshop run by her father. Scarred by the youthful discovery that she was born with a twin attached to her side, whose removal and death allowed her survival, she lives quietly, reading voraciously and occasionally writing, for pleasure, the biography of some literary also-ran.
Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author's tale of gothic strangeness—featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves. Get a FREE e-book by joining our mailing list today!