Review: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (Spoiler Free)

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Read: April 28 – May 11, 2012
Other Information: Owned book (gift), hardcover, 406 pages, Book Club selection

Book Blurb: My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.
– Vida Winter

My Opinion: Books usually fall into two categories for me. There are the books that I devour, tearing through page after page in a mad dash to absorb as much of the story as possible. In the long run, these books offer little literary nutritional value, as I am always left ravenous, hungering for more. And then there are the books where I hold my literary nose to avoid the bad taste of the words, and I force myself to endure the book for the sake of literary knowledge. If I know what I don’t like, it will be easier to recognize something I do like. And when the time comes to write my own novel, I will be easier able to avoid that which has made me cringe in the past. Or, that is the theory anyways.

This book falls into a third category. I didn’t devour this book in a mad dash, always seeking the next page, the next chapter. And I definitely didn’t hold my nose to endure the story. No, this was a book that I savored. I found every morsel of the story to be absolutely delicious. And I am kind of upset I didn’t read it sooner.

I will start with what I didn’t like, because there isn’t much. Because this is a story about stories, and there are a lot of them, the narrative voice changes a lot. For me, this was really jarring. Going back and forth between first person and third person, and then having the person who was speaking in third person switch to first person… it took away from my overall enjoyment. It pulled me out of the story while I tried to figure out whose story we were focusing on.

The other thing I didn’t like was that the author seemed to approach a lot of things with a very vague hand. In some instances it helped to build the mystery, but in most it just confused me, especially when a detail was revealed or talked about in greater detail.

The writing was superb. I found the novel delightfully verbose in the best possible way. Not having read a lot of the “classics” (Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, etc.) I can’t make a comparison there, but I do know it read a lot like Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I could quote this book for days.

He didn’t know, of course. Not really. And yet that was what he said, and I was soothed to hear it. For I knew what he meant. We all have our sorrows, and although the exact delineaments, weight and dimensions of grief are different for everyone, the color of grief is common to us all. “I know,” he said, because he was human, and therefore, in a way, he did.
– The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

With the exception of Miss Winter, I found all the characters who were meant to be well-developed to be just that. They were likeable, they made me feel for them. And Diane Setterfield created an unlikely character in the Angelfield house. Miss Winter kept a shroud of mystery around her through it all and I felt she was somewhat distanced from the reader. Even in telling her truth, her story, we don’t get to know HER.

The plot, I think, is exactly what it was meant to be. This is in no way a fast-paced action-packed mystery. It is a slower story with a build that leaves you seeking answers. So if you are after something that will set your pulse racing and your palms sweating, this is probably not the book for you. I didn’t feel compelled to read into the night, but I did think about the book an awful lot when I wasn’t reading it.

Bottom line: I loved this book. It is not an action-packed mystery, but more of a slow-to-build story that leads to a big reveal and a satisfying conclusion. If this author were to ever publish anything else, I would read it in a heartbeat.

My rating: 5 stars (Darn near perfect!)


One thought on “Review: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (Spoiler Free)

  1. Pingback: Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Spoiler Free) « Written Permission

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