The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

“The Thirteenth Tale is a cleverly plotted, beautifully written homage to the classic romantic mystery novel… Gothic elements are skilfully re-imagined in a peculiar tale of madness, murder, incest and dark secrets…. It is a remarkable first book, a book about the joy of books, a riveting multi-layered mystery that twists and turns, and weaves a quite magical spell for most of its length.” –The Independent

Diane Setterfield’s first novel is a wonderful accomplishment. This is a book lover’s book- even the book’s cover and the weight of the pages appealed to the bibliophile in me. But beyond the aesthetics of the book, Setterfield tells a rip roarin’ tale, an old-fashioned tale filled with mystery and intrigue and personal ghosts.

Margaret Lea lives a quiet life, working with her father in their little antiquarian bookstore. We know very little about Margaret other than the fact that she is close to her father, but not to her mother. She is unmarried. We don’t know how old she is. We do learn, early on, that she is a surviving twin- a fact she stumbles upon quite by accident when she is young and a piece of her family history which haunts her throughout her life.

Then Vida Winter, the most celebrated writer of the time, writes to Margaret inviting her to hear the truth of her life- a life which has been largely reclusive. This story is the subject of The Thirteenth Tale. And it is a tale that is Gothic, relying on the conventions of literature from the 18th and 19th centuries: ghosts and secrets and unrequited love abound in its pages. It’s a page-turner in the very best sense.

And as the story’s mystery unravels, you’ll find yourself wondering whether all the clues were there from the very beginning…and want to go back to trace the breadcrumb trail.

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