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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. New York: Atria Books, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-7432-9802-5

Wow! Here's a definite must-read for anyone who loves books with bookish settings, involving authors and long-kept secrets. But it's so much more than that. It's also a book about twins, a subject of never failing fascination to many. Margaret Lea, our protagonist and teller of the tale is a twin herself, but she never knew her twin, and isn't even supposed to know that there was a twin. I'll leave those details for you to figure out as you read the book.

But the main story is about a famous, famously reclusive author, Vida Winter, who has never, until now, ever told anyone about her past. She legally changed her name before she became an author, and very few people even know what her birth name was, let alone any of the circumstances surrounding her childhood. And a most peculiar story it is, indeed!

But that's not the only bookish connection. Margaret, our storyteller lives with her loving father and uncommunicative mother above a rare books bookstore, which is her father's ostensible place of business, but in reality, he makes his living from arranging behind the scenes transactions in very rare books and manuscripts. The store is primarily a front, a place to do business, but not really the source of their income.

So our protagonist has grown up surrounded by old, musty volumes, most of which no one wants or needs, but which she finds fascinating to read and study. Because of some writing she has done, some articles she has published, one at least, about some reclusive twins, Vida Winter contacts her. Near the end of her life, she finally wants to tell her real story, or so she asserts, and she wants Margaret to write it for her.

Naturally, Margaret is very skeptical, and spends considerable time and effort in an attempt to independently verify the tale she is told. And what a tale it is! The dregs of an aristocratic family, living in a decaying mansion, and the children, the unfortunate, far from normal children, the twins, that were raised there by the remaining loyal, if not entirely competent, servants. It's a tale that reminds me of the southern aristocratic decay so often portrayed by William Faulkner.

What we have here is much more surface readable than Faulkner, however. This is a page turner that will grip you from beginning to end. Highly recommended for all readers and book lovers!

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