The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

74%

33 Critic Reviews

Setterfield has crafted an homage to the romantic heroines of du Maurier, Collins and the Brontës. But this is no postmodern revision of the genre. It is a contemporary gothic tale whose excesses and occasional implausibility...can be forgiven for the thrill of the storytelling.
-Kirkus

Synopsis


When Margaret Lea opened the door to the past, what she confronted was her destiny.

All children mythologize their birth...So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter's collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself -- all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter's story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida's storytelling but remains suspicious of the author's sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.
 

About Diane Setterfield

See more books from this Author
Diane Setterfield is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Thirteenth Tale, and a former academic, specializing in twentieth-century French literature, particularly the works of Andre Gide. She lives in Yorkshire, England.
 
Published September 12, 2006 by Atria Books. 416 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Romance. Fiction
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Critic reviews for The Thirteenth Tale
All: 33 | Positive: 25 | Negative: 8

Kirkus

Excellent
on May 20 2010

Setterfield has crafted an homage to the romantic heroines of du Maurier, Collins and the Brontës. But this is no postmodern revision of the genre. It is a contemporary gothic tale whose excesses and occasional implausibility...can be forgiven for the thrill of the storytelling.

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Blog Critics

Above average
Reviewed by Nancy Fontaine on Oct 16 2006

The Thirteenth Tale is a satisfying novel with many twists and turns to keep up interest. For me, the momentum slacked a little in the middle, but that shouldn't stop readers from wanting to continue on to the end.

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Examiner

Good
Reviewed by Amanda Leitch on Sep 24 2014

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is narrated by a bibliophile named Margaret who works in her father’s antique bookshop, and also writes small biographies about obscure historical figures...The Thirteenth Tale will be a favorite that can’t be paused for all Gothic Fiction, Mystery, and Drama fans alike.

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Examiner

Excellent
Reviewed by Crystal Falconer on Oct 28 2010

This novel keeps you interested right up until the end...Readers who love the intrigue of finding secret tidbits about other human beings, reading diaries, delving into public records, and hearing captivating narration in which you are challenged to snatch up clues, you will love solving the mysteries of this novel!

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Entertainment Weekly

Above average
on Sep 08 2006

the mystery is very much her own. Pitch-perfect as it is, though, The Thirteenth Tale loses momentum in the last hundred pages, dragging out what should have been a swift knife thrust of a conclusion.

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The Independent

Below average
Reviewed by Brandon Robshaw on Nov 25 2007

The real problem is that it seems to be lacking some sort of vitamin, something that would bring it to life. It's a novel that is all too obviously trying to be a novel. Diane Setterfield is clearly a great lover of literature, but on this evidence, she is not a great producer of it.

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The Independent

Good
Reviewed by Carol Birch on Oct 02 2006

The Thirteenth Tale is a cleverly plotted, beautifully written homage to the classic romantic mystery novel...The Thirteenth Tale is not without fault...But it is a remarkable first novel, a book about the joy of books, a riveting multi-layered mystery that twists and turns, and weaves a quite magical spell for most of its length.

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The Bookbag

Good
Reviewed by Sue Magee on Dec 03 2012

I can't remember when I last enjoyed a book as much as I've enjoyed this one...This is a book which is keeping some very good company.

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About.com Bestsellers

Excellent
Reviewed by Erin Collazo Miller on Apr 27 2015

The writing is poetic. The characters are unique. The story is interesting, imaginative, exciting....The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is reminiscent of classic British novels, like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. It has tragedy, romance, moors, and dark, stormy nights.

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People

Good
on Oct 02 2006

...a gothic tale of incest and identity swapping...Readers will feel the magnetic pull of this paean to words, books and the power of story.

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BlogHer

Above average
Reviewed by Karen Ballum on Jan 24 2007

...The Thirteenth Tale is about lives and stories and the stories of lives. There's a mystery surrounding everything too, which made it a delicious read and I'm not generally a mystery fan.

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Bookin With Sunny.

Good
Reviewed by Ann Ronald on Apr 26 2014

If you are a reader who enjoys old-​​fashioned Gothic novels, set on the York­shire moors in an aging English mansion and filled with mys­te­rious instances and innu­endos, The Thir­teenth Tale was written just for you. I enjoyed every machination.

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The Australian

Good
Reviewed by Stella Clarke on Dec 02 2006

I would caution you that beyond all else, this novel is remarkable for its fixation on storytelling, not in any pointy-toed postmodern fashion (mostly), but adolescently so, fetishistically so, preposterously so...The Thirteenth Tale is enthralling, a tremendous feat of storytelling by a true believer.

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Book Review Circle

Above average
Reviewed by Suchandra Ganguly on May 01 2015

So, the novel is not a delight for the horror lovers. Nevertheless, the story is very unique and heartbreaking...the end is very surprising because you’d not be able to guess it out very easily unless you have read something very similar. All and all, a good read if you aren’t expecting too much.

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Jules' Book Reviews

Below average
Reviewed by Jules on Sep 17 2009

...I didn’t like this book much at all. It started out very slow and boring for me...Okay, so if Margaret wasn’t in the book, the story would have been a lot better for me. Because I loved digging into Vida’s past, and finding out who she really was, that was great.

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Rebecca Reads

Above average
Reviewed by Rebecca Reid on Nov 04 2010

It was fun to read Ms Setterfield’s creation, because it is obvious that she, like me, loves the classic books, those with “proper” endings. She wanted to create her own sensation novel, and I think she did a great job. I didn’t want to put it down.

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Vulpus Libris

Above average
Reviewed by niks87 on Mar 09 2010

This not a ghost story of the bangs and fizzing lights variety. This is about two women haunted by their pasts...The last few chapters are especially disappointing. When we leave Vida and are left with only Margaret for company...This book is good, but it could have been astonishingly good if Margaret had been a different character.

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She Reads Novels

Above average
Reviewed by Helen on Jan 07 2011

The Thirteenth Tale borrows elements of classic novels such as Wuthering Heights, The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, and The Turn of the Screw and it felt instantly familiar to me...While I didn’t love this book as much as I hoped I would...it was fun, entertaining and very quick to read for a book with over 450 pages.

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Pretty Books

Good
Reviewed by Stacey on Oct 13 2011

The Thirteenth Tale made me feel as if I was being told a story, rather than just reading a book. I’d describe the reading experience as cosy and comfortable...The Thirteenth Tale is also wonderfully written and this was my favourite aspect of the book. It really is just beautiful.

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Diary of an Eccentric

Good
Reviewed by Anna Horner on Sep 26 2012

Although the book started a little slow...Diane Setterfield’s beautiful prose hooked me from the first page...A passion for stories and whether the truth is best made known are central to The Thirteenth Tale, and readers will find that they won’t easily forget the unique, well drawn, and complex characters created by Setterfield.

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Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Excellent
Reviewed by Literary Feline on Dec 28 2006

I lost myself immediately inside the pages of this intriguing and fascinating tale. Diane Setterfield is an amazing storyteller. The novel held me captive right from the beginning...It is a complex story, full of surprising twists; and yet as the truth is revealed, piece by piece, there were several “Ah ha” moments...

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Euro Crime

Above average
Reviewed by Maxine Clarke on Feb 01 2008

The twist in the tale is relatively easy to guess if you are a seasoned reader of mystery novels, and there are some parts of the present-day story...that are not very realistic. But these are minor issues that do not detract from the overall excellence of this beautifully written, multi-layered book.

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Literary Musings

Above average
Reviewed by Brenna on Nov 13 2012

For me, the narrative had a few moments of suspense but overall I found the twists underwhelming and the plot filled with conveniences. The biggest problem that I had with the book was that I found it to be over-narrated...Aside from that it was an engaging story in parts, but lacking in its delivery.

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West Metro Mommy

Good
Reviewed by Melinda Ott on Oct 21 2011

This is not a pretty story. In fact, it turns the fairy tales and happy endings a reader might expect upside down. Still, it is a beautiful story, woven with the threads of love...While I cannot recommend this book enough to others, I recognize that this is not a book for everyone.

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Summer Reading Project

Above average
Reviewed by Annie Smith on Aug 18 2013

There are numerous literary allusions and references in The Thirteenth Tale. And by the end, I started to see the story as an inverted version of Jane Eyre...This time, I read The Thirteenth Tale in less than a day. This time, I noticed a wealth of allusions to Jane Eyre, The Turn of the Screw, and Lady Audley's Secret among other books.

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Small World Reads Blog

Above average
Reviewed by Sarah Small on Jul 03 2013

This is a book that is hard to put down, the kind you keep thinking about as you go about your day...This is a kind of ghost story, a mystery, a love story, a story of families gone horribly wrong and also being repaired or forged anew. It's a story of discoveries and confirmations.

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Savvy Verse & Wit

Above average
Reviewed by SERENA on Sep 26 2012

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is a novel that tries hard to be a Gothic tale full of ghosts and melodrama, but light on the actual romance...is an intriguing novel that could have done better under a different structure to capture the reader’s attention fully...

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Strange and Random Happenstance

Below average
Reviewed by Miss Eliza on Apr 13 2012

The titular name dropping was used by the author to force us into this mindset that her book was similar to these other wonderful Gothic Tales. Saying it, repeatedly, doesn't make it so...Here's an idea Diane Setterfield, try to write something original. Don't jumble all these other books together,

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Reviews of Books

Good
Reviewed by W. R. Greer on Nov 01 2007

The Thirteenth Tale is a riveting story that unravels with surprises and discoveries, where seemingly innocuous comments and events early in the novel actually bear great weight in the story's denouement. It's the type of novel that tempts the reader to reread it once they're finished, just to enjoy how all the parts come together once again.

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http://mostlyfiction.com

Good
Reviewed by Lori Lamothe on Dec 15 2008

As is true of most mysteries, what is most important about this book is not so much the revelation at the end but the thrill of the 400-plus-page ride Setterfield takes the reader on. Yet, like Margaret’s propensity for cocoa, there’s also something enormously comforting about spending an evening enveloped in Ms. Setterfield’s tale.

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Tales Untangled

Good
Reviewed by Michelle on May 18 2013

I was enthralled with Setterfield’s writing! It was so wonderful to delve into The Thirteenth Tale with its buttery rich language...The story line is intriguing as it hints at connections between threads running through Vida Winter’s hidden childhood and Margaret Lea’s suppressed story...I highly recommend this book.

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The Lone Writer

Above average
Reviewed by Shannon Yarbrough on Aug 02 2008

Overall, the book is a good mystery with no need for a detective. It definitely kept me guessing until the end drew near. I was very excited to find myself all wrong on several occasions. It was also nice to spend some time with a book that encompasses two things I love most…reading and writing.

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Life Is Too Short To Read Bad Books

Good
Reviewed by Kris on Oct 18 2006

The suspense is tantalizing. Each section of the story Winter tells builds up tension to a very high state, but then through Margaret’s lone interludes, it dissipates...There are some loose ends...But for me, this is the mark of a good mystery – one that keeps you guessing and thinking about it long after the last page has been read.

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Reader Rating for The Thirteenth Tale
83%

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Ginanjar Teguh Iman 26 Jun 2013

Rated the book as 5 out of 5

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