Part ghost story and part mystery, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (published 2006) captures the power of stories and books in a lonely life. Amateur biographer Margret Lea is invited to write the story of Vita Winter, aging popular writer with more than fifty published works to her name. Although the two women are very different and begin as strangers, as the novel progresses and their friendship grows, their stories come together. They have much more in common than they realized, and it all goes back to the universal power of stories.
It was a perfect read for a windy, rainy fall evening.I loved the book talk, and the way classic novels were seamlessly integrated in the story (see a full list here): Jane Eyre, The Turn of the Screw, Lady Audley’s Secret, The Woman in White. I could really relate to Margaret, who loves these books. She says,
I read old novels. The reason is simple: I prefer proper endings… Endings like this are to be found more commonly in old novels than new ones, so I read old novels. (page 29)
In some respects, the story was a retelling of some of these sensational novels of the eighteenth century. Mistaken identities, hidden people, ghosts, fires, walking on the moors in sleety rain. So much of Margaret’s experiences are seen through a lenses of a novel that when she faints, the doctor takes matters into his own hands. No more Victorian sensation novels!
I reached for the prescription. In a vigorous scrawl, he had inked: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. Take ten pages, twice a day, till end of course. (page 303)
It was fun to read Ms Setterfield’s creation, because it is obvious that she, like me, loves the classic books, those with “proper” endings. She wanted to create her own sensation novel, and I think she did a great job. I didn’t want to put it down.
When I share thoughts on a book I’ve read, I normally spend a few sentences sharing the flaws in the book and explaining which things didn’t work for me. The Thirteenth Tale was not immune; it was a flawed book. In some senses it was superficial, and the end wasn’t quite as satisfying as Mr Wilkie Collins’ novels are (although I obviously have a bias!). I also tend to like my books to be explainable by natural means (rather than by ghosts). But because I read for the pure enjoyment factor, I struggle now to fault the book. It was a fun journey, and that is why I read it: for fun.
I’m hosting a book club meeting on this book next week. Although I won’t be leading the discussion, I do provide refreshments. If you’ve read the book, what foods stood out to you? This seemed to be a book rather devoid of strong food images, and I’m hoping for some ideas. Of course, if I can’t find something book related, I’ll just make some yummy treats and we’ll still be happy…