Reminiscent of Jean Eyre and Wuthering Heights, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is filled with the misty landscapes of Yorkshire, mysterious events, possible hauntings and shocking family secrets. It is a Gothic novel set in contemporary times.
The book opens when Margaret Lea, a young woman who has done some freelance writing and works in her father’s book shop receives a letter from a famous writer, Vida Winter. Ms Winter has never told the truth about her life, spinning a new story with every interview. Now nearing the end of her life, she wants to tell the real story and she wants Margaret to write her biography.
At first skeptical that Winter will now tell the truth, and wondering why she – a young, little know writer – was chosen, Margaret makes the trip to Yorkshire to meet with the reclusive Winter. True to a Gothic setting, the weather is damp and gloomy and Winter’s house is large and imposing. Winter is imperious and demanding, but she does indeed tell Margaret the truth of her past, spinning one story after another.
We meet the twins Adeline and Emmeline, whose parentage is murky. They live in isolation with their mother and uncle in a decaying mansion above the village. The local people describe the family as “odd” and “not quite right” and the twins, who run wild, indulge in dangerous and even cruel acts. A doctor and a governess take an interest in the twin’s behavior which ends in disaster. As more and more servants leave and the house continues to collapse, a fire breaks out and all is lost. Or has something – or someone – survived?
Margaret is haunted by her own twin story and feels the wrench of losing her sibling. The mysteries and atmosphere surrounding Ms Winter’s house play on Margaret’s mind and she becomes obsessed with the tragedies of the past.
This is a fascinating book that is hard to put down. The twins were pretty creepy, which suited the story perfectly. There is plenty of tension and twists – I never saw the final surprise coming, although it fit with what had happened. With a dramatic and satisfying conclusion, this would be a great book to curl up with on a dark and stormy night.
If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our August theme of reading and stories and how they connect us.