Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father's antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise–she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.
Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.
As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story. In the end, both women have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets. As well as the ghosts that haunt them still.
Pages: 406 (Hardcover)
Rating: 9 out of 10
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield was the selection for the first book club meeting I attended in the DC area. My friend Karen graciously allowed me to join her book club and I was very excited to get to talk about books again. Since I had not read a book in a few weeks, I was also excited to dive into what promised to be a good story. I was instantly drawn into the worlds of Margaret and Miss Winter. Parts of the book were like a love letter to readers. I loved Margaret's description of reading and the effect that a good story has on her. Miss Winter's description of the love she felt for stories and the pain she experienced when books were destroyed is something to which I relate.
The story had a few surprises. I did not see many of them coming, but when I thought back to earlier parts of the book, I realized that the clues were in place. I found myself craving hot cocoa and sharp pencils because those were two things enjoyed by Margaret. I liked the story within a story. As Margaret was learning Miss Winter's story, I also appreciated learning more about Margaret. Both Miss Winter and Margaret's stories were dark and marked by loss. I appreciated that both had a bit of closure in the end, but parts of the ending felt rushed. I wanted the end to play out as subtly as the beginning had, but I may not have stayed up extra late to finish the novel if it had moved very slowly at the end.
I am counting the book for the following challenges:
- Orbis Terrarum: The author lives in in England.
- Reading Western Europe: The book takes place in England.
- Women Unbound: The book is about the shared secrets and past of two women.