A genre defying book about the perpetual storyteller, Vida Winter and her chosen biographer, Margaret Lea. The starting point of the novel is Margaret Lea receiving a letter from the master storyteller Vida Winter, informing her that Vida Winter will tell her the truth about her life. What follows is a too-good-to-be-true story of wild twins, an old manor house, life and death and madness – about leaving bygones alone and yet being forced to reconsider the same bygones.
I loved the clue about the novel’s title. The Thirteenth Tale is a story missing from a collection of tales by Vida Winter. It has an almost mythic presence whenever Vida Winter is mentioned, representing a piece of the past.
The two main characters, Vida Winter and Margaret Lea supplement each other. Margaret Lea is born and bred (well, almost) in her father’s antique bookshop. She struggles with a past that she only knows tidbits of, but resents her parents for keeping the truth from her. Vida Winter’s origins remain unknown, but she grew up wild in a manor house without parents, rules, or upbringing. Her past is dark and she has spent her entire adult life creating stories instead of thinking of the past. They are both passive personalities which can be tiresome to read about, but Diane Setterfield sweeps the reader up and away with the secrets of each of the women.
The novel mentions Jane Eyre a number of times and there are many parallels. The madness and secrets – a fire plays an important role, but what I appreciate about The Thirteenth Tale is how it dots the i’s and crosses the t’s. Everything – well nearly everything – is resolved in the end, which I find to be a characteristic of the romantic era.
I would recommend The Thirteenth Tale to booklovers, who love reading about books, to those who enjoys fairy tales or just a splendid read.