Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale

Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes--characters even--caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.
This quote from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield sums up my experience with the book, my latest read. It's been a while since I've felt truly drawn in to a novel. Likely this is the result of my recent tendency toward selecting less-than-literary books in an attempt to find some distraction without devoting much real focus to the reading. I'll admit that it took me a bit to get hooked, but, a few chapters in, I found myself thinking about the novel and the developing plot at times when I was unable to be reading.

There is no reference to time in the setting of The Thirteenth Tale. From the context clues, I'd guess that it's set in the 1970s. It's a world where people still write letters and where if phone lines go down in a storm, country homes are cut off from contact with civilization. Manuscripts are written by hand. The feel of the book is reminiscent of Jane Eyre, a novel that itself is woven throughout the plot.

The story begins when Margaret Lea, a little-published biographer, is summoned by Vida Winter, famous novelist. Ms. Winter is finally ready to tell her true life story, rather than another of the many versions she's given of her life over the years. As she does so, Margaret and the reader are drawn into the mystery that shrouds Ms. Winter. Through the stories she tells Margaret as well as the accounts of Margaret's own investigations, we eventually learn the truth both about Ms Winter and the legendary Thirteenth Tale, a story that was left out of an early collection written by Ms. Winter. There are enough twists to keep the story interesting and unpredictable.

The book jacket describes The Thirteenth Tale by stating,

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.

In reality, it's that and much more. This book lead me to wonder about identity, love, and the meaning of family. I have a feeling these characters will indeed be in the fiber of my clothes for quite some time.

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