The Thirteenth Tale

There was a thirteenth tale, but before anyone could ever read it, someone orders it to be taken off the shelf.

Ms. Winters won’t tell anyone who she really is. Even as a celebrated author comparable to Poe and Hemingway, no one knows where she came from. Until one day a young man comes to see her and exclaims, “Tell me the truth.” These words will haunt her until the end of her days and upon seeing it approaching, she calls onto Margaret Lea for help.

Desperate to understand the secret that torments the author, Ms. Lea embarks on a journey that leads her into the lives of old inhabitants of Angelfield and the tragedy it has kept in its shadow for a very long time.

Two perfect strangers, so perfect they can unlock The Thirteenth Tale.

I watched him from the window. He shuffled away up the street, shoulders drooping, head bowed, each step a weary effort. All that energy, the charge, the verve, gone. I had killed it. Not that I take all the blame. He should have known better than to believe me.

I never saw him again.

That feeling I had, the current in my stomach, my temples, my fingertips — it remained with me for quite a while. It rose and fell, with the memory of the boy’s words. Tell me the truth. “No,” I said. Over and over again. “No.” But it wouldn’t be still. It was a distraction. More than that, it was a danger. In the end I did a deal. “Not yet.” It sighed, it fidgeted, but eventually it fell quiet. So quiet that I as good as forgot about it.

What a long time ago that was. Thirty years? Forty? More, perhaps. Time passes more quickly than you think.

There was a definite splash on the literature scene upon the acknowledgment of The Thirteenth Tale. Setterfield’s masterful and poetic debut travels all over countryside England. It is a novel about obsession and love, with a slightly eerie element of incest.

While the book is set around the era decades before the internet or even the eight-track, it moves contentedly backward and forward in time without confusing the readers. It offers and understands the beauty of family tragedy triggered by mental disorders and love. Author Diane Setterfield provides an understated exquisiteness of plot and twist that is so fundamental to Gothic novels. She has the ability to evoke mental images via her delicate play of words and the effect  thoroughly lingers which makes readers ardent admirers.

The Thirteenth Tale also ran with two parallel plots, one focusing on Margaret Lea and her dead twin and the other on Emmeline and Adeline Angelfield. The story lines are connected by a mystery in which clues are dispensed through storytelling and sleuthing. There is a definitive lushness of prose and abundant drama that renders logic and intrigue every time the story is tied together. These developments carefully directs readers attention to background characters and ultimately unites it into a glorious whole.

As for me, I came away moved to tears and wanting for more. Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale crafted a breathless ending both thought-provoking, poignant and suspenseful. A sure must read for Gothic Mystery fan.


The Thirteenth Tale is written by first time English author Diane Setterfield

Published by Atria Books

ISBN 743298020

New York Times Bestsellers List of 2006


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