THE THIRTEENTH TALE | Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale

Summary from Goodreads:

Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise — she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story.

Both women will have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets… and the ghosts that haunt them still.


A debut novel by Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale is something I have decided to read banking only on the raves I’ve read from my bookish friends who truly loved it. I can easily give it 5 stars for its prose alone. Beautifully haunting (or haunting and beautiful?), the narrative is the very first thing that I noticed when I started reading.

Most reviews I’ve read (after I was done reading, because I avoid reviews before reading a book as much as possible) refer to this book as gothic and very much Bronte-sque. I haven’t read (actually, it’s more of not finished) any book by Emily Bronte, but I still appreciated the way the narrative was written despite the lack of reference.

Vida Winter is a creepy old woman. Reading about how she looks like, how she talks, and how she rudely treats Margaret sends shivers along my spine. I wasn’t afraid (much) about the ghosts in the story. I was more afraid of Vida Winter.

If I could, I would love to trade places with Margaret Lea. Imagine living amidst books. She even breathes in the scent of books! But of course, I still wouldn’t want to be haunted by a ghost, being the scaredy cat that I am so I will content myself of breathing in the scent of my own books.

The story is very fairy-tale like, and the mystery is something that kept me going. Did I say that the prose was haunting? It really is because I can still remember having to feel the chilly air despite it being humid. There is something eerie in the way story unfolds, and the tale of Vida Winter and her family is something fit for the movies. The plot is full of twists and turns, and just when I thought I had figured everything out, there would come a shocking revelation that would change everything I thought to be true. I had to make several rereads of previous chapters just so I could make sense of everything again.

I withheld a star from my rating because I wanted a different ending. Sure, the ending wrapped everything beautifully, but it was to tight. I wanted something more mysterious or suspenseful, something more open-ended than that ending, but I guess this is what stories like these are — having neat and precise endings.

If there is anything The Thirteenth Tale made me feel (other than feel being watched – AWOOO), it is the desire to reread and, this time, finish Wuthering Heights.


My rating: 4/5 stars.

Buddy read with Maria.

Leave a Reply