Title: The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
Length: 406 pages
Publisher: I read from the Atria Books Book Club Edition
The first time I read this book it was July of 2011. I was no longer on maternity leave, but my daughter still seemed very, very small. We were a sleepy household then, despite her running around long before her playmates and peers had begun taking their first steps. I remember mostly listening to this book on audio because I had a hard time keeping my eyes open when I was home – but I wasn’t actually napping ever. It was excellent and I adored it. That’s why I encouraged the HPB book club to read it for our August discussion that will take place tomorrow night (August 4th, 2014).
One of my fellow clubbers emailed me already, saying he only gave the book a 5.5 out of 10. He had questions I can’t repeat in a review due to spoilers. I had meant to take this month off and discuss from memory, but his questions and low rating for a book I remember describing as the perfect tale forced me to pick it up and read it again.
And I discovered that I disagree with him…
I feared I would have my mind changed by time and growth. I feared I would have read so many wonderful things since my first reading that somehow the magic wouldn’t shine to brightly and mysteriously the second time around. I feared the ghost story wouldn’t feel so ghostly, knowing the ending.
But my fears were unwarranted, because I still loved it. I loved it all.
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” – pg. 9
Diane Setterfield has expert hands. She manipulates words deftly. She takes a reader prisoner with her storytelling. Vida Winter winds herself around your limbs like spider silk and will enthrall you. Charlie will render you so terrified you will not move, except to turn the page; Adeline March will pierce your skin, and become a knot stuck in your throat; Isabelle will enter your blood and startle you; Emmeline will numb your thoughts. It is the best, most believable ghost story I’ve ever read.
Also this week, I’ve watched the BBC screen version of the story. Yes, there were a few things changed, much left out, but overall I was pleased with the production. We were able to watch it on youtube.
First of all, it was brilliantly cast with Vanessa Redgrave. I adore her and she is exactly how I imagined someone like Vida Winter to be. She appears in so many of my literature to film favorites, like Atonement, Howards End, and Mrs. Dalloway. She’s such a classy lady. I must say, too, that I think she looks fabulous with Vida’s red hair.
Some people express a distaste for the “name-dropping,” the characters discussing books and how they shaped their lives. There are a lot of Jane Eyre references. If you’ve read my book (The Bookshop Hotel) you’d know that I am not one to find this unfavorable. In fact, that is my favorite sort of book, and it is in this fashion that I have discovered my most cherished reading experiences: from characters who pointed me in the right direction. Characters always have more impact on me than real people. They have no stake in it, I can trust them, they gain nothing by convincing me or failing to convince me to choose a certain book or behave a certain way. For this I love them. For this I respect them more than the living and breathing.
Only a character could get me to listen to a ghost story with an open mind. Only a character can bring to life the fantastical, the magic, the mystery, and the excitement of a ghost story. Only a character could make me see and understand a ghost.
Do you believe in ghosts? No? Read The Thirteenth Tale and Vida Winter might change your mind.