As a teenager my favorite books were Jane Eyre and anything by or like Anya Seton, Daphne DuMaurier or Mary Stewart that I could get my hands on. Gothic themes, orphaned heroines and forbidden love stories were just my cup of tea. The Thirteenth Tale is a story after my teenaged, romantic heart and I enjoyed every minute of reading it.
Margaret Lea is a studious young woman who lives over the bookshop she manages with her father. She is estranged from her mother after the death of her twin sister and she pines for connection and emotional involvement with someone who can make her feel whole again. Her life has been barren of romance or intrigue and she spends her time reading, researching for clients and writing literary biographies destined for small print runs and even smaller sales numbers.
Out of the blue, Margaret receives a letter from Vida Winter, one of the most well-loved and prolific writers of the day. Miss Winter requests that Margaret come and stay with her at her home in Yorkshire, so that she may record the life and times of this most private author as she nears the end of her life. No one has ever been able to penetrate the enigmatic history of Vida Winter and she has fooled more that one interviewer with tales of mystery and woe that, while entertaining, were never true.
The true story that Miss Winter finally reveals is fascinating and sad, gothic and gruesome. Margaret is enthralled with the tale, especially as she begins to unravel some of the mysterious, missing details on her own. Vida begins with her grandfather at home on the Angelfield estate, raising his motherless children, the willful and spoiled Isabelle and her older brother Charlie, who harbors an unnatural and destructive affection for his sister. There are twins, Adeline and Emmeline, a governess who disappears, abandoned children, a possible ghost, fires and much sadness. Angelfield plays it’s part by becoming the physical representation of the dysfunctional family that lives within.
Diane Setterfield writes with ardent skill and the story kept me laser-focused through every page. The story is vivid and beautifully written, easy to see in the mind’s eye. The characters are engaging and entrancing, coming to life through the sibylline narrative, especially as we learn more about Margaret Lea through her search to find out who the real Vida Winter is. There are, as expected, unexpected plot twists and the story will definitely keep you captivated to the very end.