The Thirteenth Tale by Diana Setterfield

Margaret Lea works at her father’s antiquarian bookshop. When she receives a letter from famous author Vida Winters, inviting her to write the author’s biography, Margaret is drawn by the mystery of it all.

In unravelling the author’s story, Margaret comes face to face with a truth that has been lurking in her periphery all her life.

Diana Setterfield’s writing is easily the selling point of this novel. Atmospheric, character-driven, and full of intrigue.

Copyright © 2022 Meera Nair

She teases out her character’s inclinations, secrets, and innate nature with the ease of unwinding thread from a spool. At first glance, there isn’t a lot of depth to Margaret’s backstory. But once she finds a hidden box in her parent’s room, you begin to realise why she finds Vida’s story appealing.

It’s a medium-paced novel. There’s ample plot development at any given stage so I was thoroughly engrossed while reading The Thirteenth Tale.

I loved the narrative structure, with chapter sections alternating between Margaret writing Vida’s story and conducting her own research about what happened at Angelfield house decades ago.

While I expected the presence of the Angelfield house to be chilling, much like in The Haunting of Hill House or The Hacienda, it’s more tragic than scary.

It’s a testament to Setterfield’s flair for writing that sensitive topics have been explored in such a subtle manner. A lot of these events occur in a behind-the-scenes, fade-to-black style. So you aren’t really forced to sit through graphic descriptions.

Nevertheless, here are some trigger warnings – loss of family, neglectful parenting, rape, violence, mental instability

There’s so much that doesn’t meet the eye about the plot progression. And honestly, that was the cherry on top of the cake.

Although there are some horrible characters in the book, the storytelling aspect of the novel is what compelled me to keep reading.

The execution of the plot would’ve been drastically altered if the protagonist had been any less subdued, personality-wise. For such a story, it’s important to have a main character who wouldn’t overshadow Vida Winter’s essence, and that’s exactly the role Margaret plays.

All in all, The Thirteenth Tale surpassed my expectations. It has letters, troublesome twins, a gothic mansion with buried secrets, and characters with an undying love of books. What more could you want?

It’s a piece of narrative brilliance that I would recommend to fans of gothic mystery novels. Easily one of the highlights of my 2022 reading.

Published by Meera Nair

A 27 year-old freelance Content Writer, who spends all her free time ensconced in the pages of a book or writing to her heart's content about topics that excite the creative spirit in her.

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