The Thirteenth Tale


Diane Setterfield




Date Reviewed:

February 3rd, 2020

he Thirteenth Tale is a terrific novel. A bestselling novelist, Vida Winter, has written a multitude of beloved novels. But whenever she has been interviewed by the press, Winter has always told wild, and obviously invented, stories of her background. The story is always more interesting than the truth. But now Margaret Lea has been called to Winters estate, where she is promised the true life story of Vida Winter. Winter is dying, and she wants to tell one final story, except that this time it will be true. And what a tale it is!

Diane Setterfield has done a wonderful job of creating an uneasy atmosphere. The estate where Vida Winter lives is a remote mansion, isolated and eerie. The servants certainly aren't friendly and cheerful. The characterization is also excellent. Vida's true tale of her life goes all the way back to her grandparents, George & Mathilde Angelfield. Mathilde does in childbirth, leaving her children Charlie and Isabelle motherless. Without Mathilde, George wallows in grief, and the two kids grow up wild and undisciplined. Isabelle eventually has two children of her own, the twins Emmeline and Adeline. Every one of these characters is fully fleshed out, and quite bizarre. The isolation exacerbates their differences, until the twins are so wild that they defy the attempts of any governess to teach them normal behavior. Vida Winter reveals that her original name was Adeline Angelfield, she was one of these wild twins.

One day a new governess arrives, Hester, who has studied psychology and is determine to understand and refine the behavior of the twins. More adventures ensue.

In between listening to Vida recount her incredible history, the biographer Margaret Lea does some sleuthing on her own. She looks for records of the Angelfields, she visits the ruins of the old estate, she talks to the peculiar neighbors. There are hints of a disasterous fire. There glimpses of a ghost. Certainly, not all the strange going-ons make sense. There are several references to Jane Eyre, but since I didn't read that book, I think I missed those clues.

I delighted in reading this book, and I will now look for the next book by Setterfield. I see her next book is called Once Upon a River, so I look forward to reading that.