The Thirteenth Tale

Vida Winter is a very famous British writer, a very prolific and talented one, who has written several much-loved best-sellers. However, no one knows about the real life of Vida Winter. She has given thousands of interviews, yes, but no two stories about her life match. She is, however, dying now, and wants to tell someone her story – the absolute truth, with nothing left out. She writes a letter to small-time biographer Margaret Lea, inviting her to meet her and write her story.

Margaret Lea is a cold, very formal person, who loves her books more than she loves people. She lives on the floor above her father’s antiquarian bookstore, where he stocks rare books, where she has learnt to read and love books. Margaret has written a few biographies about dead authors – living authors do not fascinate her the same way – but nothing very big. She is, naturally, surprised when she receives Vida Winter’s letter. Why her?, she muses. She gets her hands on a rare edition of one of Vida Winter’s books, and is so gripped by it that she finishes reading it in the course of a night. The book makes her all the more curious about Vida Winter, and she goes on to read all the books that the writer has ever written, realising what a master story-teller she is. Desirous to know more, Margaret decides to visit Vida Winter.

Why is Margaret so intrigued by the first book of Vida Winter’s that she reads? Does Margaret take on the task of writing Vida Winter’s biography? Is Vida Winter really interested in telling Margaret her true life story? Why? – the answers to all of these questions and more make up the bulk of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale.

The premise of the story is indeed very interesting but, sadly, I didn’t like the book at all. The characters are too weird, too cold and forbidding to get attached to them. The twists and turns in the story are way too many, and most are extremely twisted. Overall, it is a dark, depressing book that made me sink into a blue funk more than once when I was reading it. I plodded on resolutely, because I really didn’t want to abandon one more book mid-way, and wanted to know how it all ended. I must say, I am disappointed. I wanted to like this book, I really did, but I just couldn’t.

Though The Thirteenth Tale is a book about books and writers, there are very few parts which remind you of this. The rest is all dark Gothic thriller. And a highly convoluted one at that.

I have, however, read loads of good things about this book all over blogosphere, and guess it is just not my cup of tea. It is not a book that I enjoyed reading or one I would highly recommend but, maybe, someone else would love it more than me!

The writing style of the author is beautiful, though. I learnt that this is the first book by Diane Setterfield. I don’t know whether there have been any others. I sure would like to sample more books from the author’s pen.

Have you read this book? How did you like it?


14 thoughts on “The Thirteenth Tale

  1. I read this book and I didn’t like it either. Both those ladies were so weird. it’s sad I usually like these kind of mysteries, but this was just too blah and slow.


  2. It has a very you-will-hate-it-or-love-it kind of a reviews on Goodreads. Although I must say, I loved the setup of the story. I might pick this up in this lifetime.


    1. @Amit

      Yes, I heard that too – you either love this book, or you hate it. I wanted to fall into the first category, but sadly, ended up in the second category.

      Yes, the premise is very interesting. That is what led me to pick up this book in the first place. That and the great reviews of the book that I have read all over blog world.


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