Reading for Carl’s R.I.P challenge and Trish’s Classics challenge has introduced me to the wonderful world of gothic fiction. I didn’t think I would, but am find myself loving it and excited to have so many still to discover, Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, Dracula and so on and so on…. just wonderful.
This week I have been gently making my way through The Thirteenth Tale. It’s quite long at 456 pages and takes place over the autumn and winter months. It’s a story that I wanted to pace myself through but I can understand other readers picking it up and not being able to put it down.
‘All children mythologise their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won’t be the truth: it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.’
Margaret Lea is a book lover and blossoming biographer and has spent her life surrounded by books in her fathers antique bookshop which she lives above. I loved this passage below:
‘By three minutes to eight I was in my nightdress and slippers waiting for the kettle to boil. Quickly, quickly. A minute to eight. My hot water bottle was ready, and I filled a glass with water from the tap. Time was of the essence. For at eight o’clock the world came to an end. It was reading time.
The hours between eight in the evening and one or two in the morning have always been my magic hours. Against the blue candlewick bedspread the white pages of my open book, illuminated by a circle of lamplight, were the gateway to another world’
Margaret is commissioned to write the biography of the famous yet mysterious author Vida Winter. Arriving at the author’s eerily silent house in Yorkshire Moors country, she finds a dying woman who after telling stories all her life, now wants to tell the truth about her past – or so she claims.
That past is one of decades of family secrets and tragedy and centres around the twins Emmeline and Adeline March and the now forgotten Angelfield House. In true Jane Eyre style (a book that features prominently), there is a decaying isolated mansion, secret inhabitants, an influential governess, a devastating fire.
At first I was a bit worried this book might suffer under the weight of expectation. I had heard so many good things about it and for the first few chapters I wasn’t blown away. I have to admit it wasn’t so much Vida Winter’s story that I loved but the healing effect on Margaret, who lives with her own secret and sadness, as she discovered it. I felt I was with her each step of the way and thought Diane Setterfield made wonderful use of the seasons to create a sense of passing time.
I would have liked Margaret’s troubled relationship with her mother to have been part of this healing process. Although we learn of the reason for their troubles, I felt this was introduced into the story without really being resolved.
My favourite character was Aurelius Love, who unexpectedly pops up as Margaret is researching the story. He reminded me of one of those larger than life characters in a childrens book – a delight.
So – did it live up to the hype? Yes, for me it did, although in a different way than I thought it would.