Review: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

08 Oct

The Thirteenth TaleMy rating: 4.5 of 5 stars



Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise–she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply 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 still.

I enjoyed every minute of The Thirteenth Tale. It was pleasantly spooky, and (for most of the book) beautifully ambiguous: Ghosts? Insanity? (yes, but whose?). The plot twisted and turned. I’d think I knew where it was heading, and then it would veer away.

And yes, I love books featuring books, and this one is no exception. Starting with Margaret in her father’s used bookstore, exploring Miss Winters’ library, catching the allusions to classic books… I wish I remembered Jane Eyre more from reading it 15+ years ago. I wish I’d read Rebecca. I’m sure there were more references I was missing.

I found the exploration of family fascinating. Twins are a recurring theme,as are dysfunctional mothers.

Both Margaret and Ms. Winters were great characters, drawing me into each of their lives. The other characters were fascinating, even if often not people I’d want to know.

Normally, characters are the most important part of a book to me. I liked the characters in The Thirteenth Tale, but what really made the book for me were the twists and turns of the plot and the overall feeling of creepiness.

I read The Thirteenth Tale with my Book Club M.  We all enjoyed it, and we had a great discussion. We stayed on topic for our entire discussion period, better than we have in many months. The literary references led to a side topic of what classics we’d read at what times in our lives, and what we’d be interested in rereading now.

We did make use of the two sets of discussion questions I found. The first was the publisher’s reading guide, available on many sites. The second was from


Posted by on October 8, 2009 in Book Club, books, M, reviews


Tags: , , , ,

10 responses to “Review: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

  1. Kim V

    October 9, 2009 at 4:55 am

    Sounds like the perfect read for October!

    BTW While I have never read Rebecca either the Hitchcock movie is IMHO a good movie.

  2. Allison

    October 9, 2009 at 7:42 am

    I believe I’ve seen that book before… but I had no idea what it was about. It definitely sounds pretty interesting! Thanks for the review on this!

  3. Britt, Book Habitue

    October 9, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Very interesting…. I’ll have to add it to my list!

  4. Literary Feline

    October 9, 2009 at 11:15 am

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this one, Laura! I really liked it too. The writing, the characters, the setting, the plot . . . There wasn’t anything I didn’t like!

  5. Belle

    October 9, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    This is on my list, once I manage to plow through some of my existing TBR. It sounds so good!

  6. kay

    October 9, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    I’ve read mixed reviews of this one; I’m so glad you enjoyed it! It’s in my TBR pile somewhere, hopefully I’ll get to it someday!

  7. April

    October 11, 2009 at 10:02 am

    I listened to this a while ago and loved it!! It is one of my favorite audiobooks! Loved the style of writing and the storyline!

  8. Jen - Devourer of Books

    October 12, 2009 at 7:18 am

    I adored “The Thirteenth Tale” when I read it, so glad you liked it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: