by Diane Setterfield

Reviewer Rating:


​Though it is set in the present day, The Thirteenth Tale has the feel of a much older novel, when books were ​still a primary form of entertainment and when letters and conversation were still our primary forms of communication. For the main character, they still are. Margaret Lea works in her parents' bookstore. She doesn't sell the books, but "looks after them." She also writes short biographies of obscure literary figures, "people who lived in the shadow of fame in their own lifetimes." She prefers 19th century literature to more recent fare, and for the most part prefers books to people.

Margaret's life is about to change drastically, however. She receives a request from famous bestselling author Vida Winter to write Winter's biography. Miss Winter has always spun stories of her life as she does the tales in her novels, as pure fiction. This time she promises to tell the truth. But is she capable of it after so many years of deception?

And so Margaret's world opens out into a rich Charlotte-Bronte-esque tale of twins, family chaos, forgotten people, unknown origins, survival, insanity, and rebirth. Books such as Jane Eyre come to feel like characters. Plot twists abound.

One review described this as a "booklovers' book," and I agree. It's a treat for those of us who loved Jane Eyre and Middlemarch and have read nothing like them from this century. As with those classics, this book has a more formal feel. But that only helps the engrossing, complex storylines draw you into another world.

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