The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Published in 2006 by Atria Books
My copy: From a second-hand bookshop in Canterbury
Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten. It was once home to the March family – fascinating, manipulative Isabelle, brutal, dangerous Charlie, and the wild, untamed twins, Emmeline and Adeline. But Angelfield House hides a chilling secret which strikes at the very heart of each of them, tearing their lives apart…
Now Margaret Lea is investigating Angelfield’s past – and the mystery of the March family starts to unravel. What has Angelfield been hiding? What is its connection with the enigmatic writer Vida Winter? And what is the secret that strikes at the heart of Margaret’s own, troubled life? As Margaret digs deeper, two parallel stories unfold, and the tale she uncovers sheds a disturbing light on her own life…
I bought this in a second-hand book shop on the strength of other books I had read and enjoyed by the same author. As I was reading, something was bugging me – this book seemed so unlike the others I’d read. Both of those were set in the US for a start, and this was set in the UK. It was only when I finished the book that I checked – and I had actually got Diane Setterfield confused with Curtis Sittenfield. Oops. So it was a total accident that led me to pick up this book, but I am so glad I did!
Margaret works in her father’s bookshop and lives upstairs. She leads a quiet and reclusive life, so she is shocked when, out of the blue, she receives a letter from the incredibly famous and successful author Vida Winter, asking Margaret to stay with her and write her life story. Margaret is intrigued, yet unsure, but curiosity gets the better of her and sure enough she travels to Yorkshire to meet the ageing and mysterious Miss Winter. Despite her success as an author, Miss Winter has always been reticent about her own upbringing and has constantly told interviewers different versions of her childhood. But she promises to tell Margaret the truth…
We are then sent back in time to Angelfield, a big old house full of mystery and misery. Siblings Charlie and Isabelle are inseparable – until Isabelle disappears for months and returns with baby twin girls. The girls are neglected and run wild, and grow up with all sorts of secrets of their own.
I really loved this book. The story is completely intriguing and there is a creepy, gothic atmosphere pervading the whole novel. It’s also brilliantly and cleverly written. Margaret carries out her own investigations alongside Vida’s stories of the past, and this adds to the layers of mystery surrounding Angelfield and its inhabitants, and we piece together what has happened at the same time as Margaret. Occasionally the story seems to drift off on a tangent, which adds to the tension, but then everything always ends up leading us back to the main story.
I found I had to read this book quite slowly to fully take in what was happening, and although I wanted to devour it in one go, I had to sometimes take a bit of time out from it. I haven’t experienced this with a book for a long time, and I think this added to its appeal.
Within hours of reading this, I went to my local library and got Setterfield’s only other book as I feel I have to read that as well. I’m so pleased that I picked this one up, even if it was a case of mistaken identity!
I definitely recommend this to fans of gothic mysteries.