Friday, September 28, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield


I've read so many wonderful books by first time novelists this year, and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield will certainly join the ranks of Audrey Niffenegger and Elizabeth Kostova. This is another one of those unread treasures that has been sitting on my shelf and it makes me wonder what other visionary treats lie there in waiting.

The Thirteenth Tale is a prime example of storytelling at it's top form. Margaret Lea is a young woman who works at her father's bookshop which specializes in rare and antiquarian books. She's been surrounded by books throughout her life and has grown comfortable with the classics such as Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, The Woman in White, etc. and has shied away from more contemporary literature. That is, until she is summonsed by Vida Winter, a top selling novelist with a mysterious past who has requested that Margaret record the story of her life. Margaret is a bit leary of the commission, but accepts and finds that she must face her own ghosts while recording the ghosts of Ms. Winter's past - a past that reveals that the truth is often stranger than fiction.

There are so many things that I loved about this book. The characters are wonderful. Vida Winter is someone that I wish truly existed just so that I could sit in her library in front of her fireplace and listen to her tell me her stories. But of course, the wonderful Diane Setterfield, who wrote Vida Winter's character does exist ;) The storytelling aspect of this novel was just perfect. There wasn't a single moment in the novel when I was bored. There's constantly a hook to grab you and the story is always appealing.

I haven't read Daniel Wallace's book, Big Fish, but much of this novel reminded of a gothic version of the film. It's a tale of a past that's truly bizarre, yet grounded in fact. This novel could easily be translated to the big screen and make a beautiful film by the way. Setterfield paints a very vivid picture in her descriptions of the landscapes, her characters appearances, the libraries, etc.

I'm so glad that I've finally joined the other half of the world that's read this book! I've been saying this a lot lately, but here's another author that I really look forward to following throughout her career. Setterfield certainly has a promising future ahead of her if she continues to turn out novels that deliver as well as this one did.

I leave you with a truly devilish passage from the lips of Vida Winter that's not essential to the plot, but I had an evil grin on my face during this particularly RIP-ish scene:

"Picture a conveyor belt, a huge conveyor belt, and at the end of it a massive furnace. And on the conveyor belt are books. Every copy in the world of every book you've ever loved. All lined up. Jane Eyre. Villette. the Woman in White...Middlemarch. And imagine a lever with two labels, On and Off. At the moment the lever is off. And next to it is a human being with his hand on the lever. About to turn it on. And you can stop it. You have a gun in your hand. All you have to do is pull the trigger. What do you do?"


Other Reviews:

Chris (Book A Rama)

28 comments:

Stormfilled said...

I finished it the other day and have to admit that I was horribly disappointed after all of the positive things I'd heard about it.

DesLily said...

I really loved this book too Chris!! As you know this is NOT what I normally read, and even having read the other 4 books for the challenge (and enjoying them) they do not make me want to read "more of the same"... but this one makes me feel like, if I could find another very similiar I'd want to read it!

A big part is the story telling by the author.. the rest is that there is "just enough" mystery and just enough of everything..nothing is "over done". Things are scarey, but not too scarey. Things are strange but not too strange.. she really hit the nail on the head with this story!

Stephanie said...

So...I guess the makes the very LAST person on the planet that hasn't read this book! And I kept meaning to do it, I just haven't!!

But now that you've QUOTED from it, I think I may have to move it up the pile!! (OK...maybe not. I think I may hold off and read it when I have the time to savor it!)

Stephanie said...

Can you tell it's early?? I meant, it makes ME the last person who hasn't read it!!

Chris said...

I'm sorry to hear that Stormfilled :( It's a pain to get through a whole book to find that you don't like it. That's happened to me with a few books too. Books get worked up so much that they're bound to be a let down...this one wasn't for me though, I enjoyed it.

Deslily, I'm glad that you've liked what you've read of this genre :) You really have picked some good ones! The storytelling in this one really was just amazing. It was such a treat to sit down with this book every day and I looked forward to the time that I spent with it. If you want another novel that has pieces of horror and fantasy in it, I recommend American Gods by Neil Gaiman...I'm never going to stop pushing that book ;)

Stephanie, Nah, I'm sure there are others who haven't read it ;) I would definitely savor it for when you can truly enjoy it. It's a wonderful book and one meant to be read at it's own pace!

Becky said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Chris. This is one of my favorites from the R.I.P. challenge. Every page had something to savor. It was just so wonderfully done.

Debi said...

Wonderful review, Chris! If your review alone hadn't already sold me, that quote most definitely would have! It had my heart a-pounding!

jenclair said...

One of my favorites from last year! The quote you used explains why so many readers love it--all of the allusions to other favorite books and characters and plots and...

A paean to the Gothic novel.

Stephanie said...

I read Thirteenth Tale last October and it was really the perfect gothic read for Halloween-time. I too can't wait to see what Setterfield comes up with next.
Stephanie
www.thewrittenword.wordpress.com

Chris said...

Becky, You're right..every page really did have something special about it. That's rare in a book. Quite an enjoyable one!

Debi, I'd say to read this book for the scene alone that the quote came from...but of course there are much better scenes than that in the book. I really did love that one though. It captured the essence of how wonderful of a character Vida Winter was...I could hear her and envision her perfectly in my head during that scene. And it's quite a thought provoking question, is it not? EVERY copy in the world of EVERY book you've ever loved...gone...but you can stop it...mwuhahaha!

Jenclair, It's a favorite of mine from this year! What a great novel, huh? I loved all of the references to the classics and it really was such a wonderful throwback to gothic literature. I loved every page of it. I really can't wait to see what Setterfield does next.

Stephanie, Ditto! She's going to have a wonderful career ahead of her, I'm sure! I wonder if she'll stay in this same neo-gothic style of literature or if she'll move on to something else. Can't wait to find out!

cj said...

What I want to know is how come I don't hear about these books like y'all do?

This one sounds marvelous!

cjh

Chris said...

CJ, LOL! That's a good question! I don't know where I heard of this one to be honest with you. It was through somebody's blog...I know that much...It's a good thing that you don't hear about all these books! You should see the size of my TBR list!!! But this is a definite must read and I'm glad you've heard of it now ;)

jean pierre said...

wow! i'm definitely part of the half of the world that hasn't yet read this - 'cause i've never even heard of it!

thanks for the review, it sounds very interesting!

i particularly glad for you that it was yet another good book that you've read this year - you've really had a good time of it of late. :)

Chris said...

JP, I love nearly every book that I read :P I rarely write a bad review for a book and I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I'm not a very discriminating reader and I don't really pick things apart. As long as the story grabs me, I'll enjoy it. There have only been maybe 3 or 4 books out of about 55 that I've read this year that I didn't like!

SuziQoregon said...

I'm only about 50 pages into it right now and really enjoying it so far. I've already flagged many great comments about books and reading.

Chris said...

SuziQ, It's FILLED with all kinds of wonderful quotes. It's definitely a book for book lovers. You'll love it! Can't wait to hear your final report ;)

Booklogged said...

There were things I really liked about this novel and things I strongly disliked. All in all, I'm glad I read it. I will be watching for Setterfield's next book because I do think she can spin a yarn and tell a good story.

Booklogged said...

I meant to add - I loved Big Fish. Didn't read the book either, but loved the movie. Very strange, but endearing.

Chris said...

Booklogged, I'm glad you came away from the book happy that you read it. This one worked for me, but I've heard from a few people that there were things that didn't work so well for them. I'm looking forward to her future books as well. She certainly can spin a tale.

Wasn't Big Fish great? I'd like to read the book eventually, but Nymeth wrote a review awhile ago of Wallace's book The Watermelon King that sounds even better than Big Fish..so I think I may read that one first.

Carl V. said...

Just reading the excitement in your voice makes me want to rush home and grab my copy and start reading it all over again. It was one of only a handful of books I have read in my life that had me quivering all over with enjoyment when I read it. It was that amazing. Wow! I'm so glad you liked it as others have not and, like Stormfilled, have been bitterly disappointed. I'm not sure why. Part of me understands that not all books are for everyone, but when books like this or Time Traveler's Wife are not liked it always amazes and saddens me. Weird. Anyway, welcome to the Diane Setterfield fan club!

Chris said...

Carl, I'm kind of puzzled why people don't like this one too! It was just amazing...it blows my mind how people can write stories as amazing as this one. I'm sure that this will be a book that I come back to a few times. Glad to be in the fan club ;)

alisonwonderland said...

i just finished this book today - and i really enjoyed it. i was ready to be disappointed, given all the raves i'd heard, but i wasn't disappointed at all. Setterfield is a great storyteller!

Chris said...

Allison, I was the same way! I was ready to be disappointed too with all the hype, but I ended up liking it better than I thought I would! Glad you enjoyed it too :)

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Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard anything about this book and picked it up reluctantly, maybe it was the title that turned me off. Whatever the reason was, I completely forgot it after the first chapter. It wasn't the material that I liked (it's not my typical preference) it was the astonishing QUALITY of writing. I would have set the book down in an instant if I wasn't amazed at the authors talent. Granted I'm not a writer or editor or involved in any other grand profession(just an engineer that can barely spell) but I read for pleasure quite a bit and I thoroughly enjoyed every chapter. I shared it with my mother in law who surprisingly enjoyed it for the same reason. My appreciation to Ms. Setterfield, I think I'll buy a few books just to express it explicitly.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if their is a movie out the this book. I have been look and can't seem to find one, but I did read that somone has see the movie and likes it.