The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield ★★★★☆

Read 11/18/19 – 11/19/19

This is the most anticipated book I chose to read for Buzzwordathon 5.0, and you can read more about why I choose Thirteenth Tale there! It was easier to get into the Thirteenth Tale than Setterfield’s newest novel, Once Upon a River. I think it helps that the premise is just easier to understand. Well, there is plenty of mystery as it pertains to Vida Winters, our central character and famous author. Who I would consider the main narrator, Margaret Lea, is the book lover and casual autobiographer.

The story begins with Margaret Lea. Setterfield immerses us into her life so that we can get a sense of the type of person she is and for her love of books. I have heard this is a book about books, and this is most true in this early parts of the book. That made it easy to fall in love with the story and our character Margaret. However, to classify the novel as a book about books feels like a simplification. It is part of it, but it is much more than that. This story isn’t about a love for books as much as it is for the art of storytelling. In that way, it is very much like Once Upon a River, but there is a difference. Once Upon a River is a story of perspective. While the Thirteenth Tale is a story of how stories are structured.

Ms. Winters is a famous author whose history is unknown to many. Attempts to get the truth have led to countless fables about her life, but she has yet to tell a truthful story. Now, something seems to suggest she is ready. Even as we begin to learn, however, we begin to appreciate her art of story telling because she recognizes when details ought to be shared. There are lies and then their are half truths, and a good story often relies on half truths to maintain an ere of mystery with the reader.

When the story finally begins to come together, it becomes clear how each piece of the story is interconnected. That makes it hard not to compare it to Setterfield’s other novel Once Upon a River, and because they are so similar, her newest novel feels like the same idea but with more ideas built onto it. Once Upon a River has the same love of stories, if not books, and it has a feel of magical realism and fairy tales.

A quote from early in the story.

This quote is but a piece of the conversation they have about books early in the story. This quote resonated with me, but it was a part of a larger conversation about the different kinds of books. It was a conversation about how people have different tastes, and that is okay. Nevertheless, I connected with the Margaret’s father (the he she is talking about). I found his desire to read a wide variety of books inspiring.

I was very pleased when I saw Diane Setterfield liked my tweet!

In the end, I really enjoyed the Thirteenth Tale, and I appreciated the ease of which I was engrossed into the story. I had to check a character list on Wikipedia a few times, but it wasn’t nearly as difficult to follow along as Once Upon a River. Part of that is the magical realism coupled with what I thought was a more Victorian setting. That might sound odd, but I found this story didn’t have as many characteristics of a Victorian story so far as how characters acted.

Is it better than Once Upon a River? I don’t know. I think I would have been annoyed with Once Upon a River had read it after the Thirteenth Tale because magical realism makes everything more ambiguous, and while it isn’t bad, it would make it harder for me to get into. As it is, I read it first, and I am inclined to put them on par. 4.25/5 stars. (I gave Once Upon a River 4.5 originally but in retrospective I feel 4.25 is more appropriate and have changed it.)

4 thoughts on “The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield ★★★★☆

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