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Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Reason for Reading: R.I.P. III
Rating: 4/5

I never read without making sure I am in a secure position. I have been like this ever since the age of seven when, sitting on a high wall and reading The Water Babies, I was so seduced by the descriptions of underwater life that I unconsciously relaxed my muscles. Instead of being held buoyant by the water that so vividly surrounded me in my mind, I plummeted to the ground and knocked myself out. I can still feel the scar under my fringe now. Reading can be dangerous.

I love this description of Margaret Lea, our narrator. She is a biographer asked to write the life story of reclusive author Vida Winter. Margaret is most comfortable with the books in her father's antiquarian books, and her previous biographies were of people long dead. But as she begins reading the books that made Vida Winter famous, the opportunity to finally hear the life story of an author who has given dozens, perhaps hundreds, of false life stories proves too fascinating to pass up.

What Vida Winter is finally ready to tell is the tragic and violent history of Angelfield, a manor long ago devastated by a fire. Her story is a ghost story, a story about the strange inhabitants of Angelfield, and it is a mystery.

This book is also an ode to the pleasures of reading. Margaret lovingly describes her feelings and emotions towards her beloved books. Book bloggers often jokingly describe "book porn", pimping pics of new books they've bought on their blog. Reading particular passages from The Thirteenth Tale, however, might make you rethink whether they might fit the description better.

There followed one of the most glorious times of my adult life. For the first time ever I had on my bedside table a pile of brand-new, glossy paperbacks... Of course one always hopes for something special when one reads an author one hasn't read before, and Miss Winter's books gave me the same thrill I had when I discovered the Landier diaries, for instance. But it was more than that. I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one every expects to be fulfilled. And during this time, these days when I read all day and half the night, when I slept under a counterpane strewn with books, when my sleep was black and dreamless and passed in a flash and I woke to read again-the lost joys of reading returned to me. Miss Winter restored to me the virginal qualities of the novice reader, and then with her stories she ravished me.

Despite the length of this book, it was a quick read for me. I was drawn in by the terribly bizarre charaters who inhabited Angelfield. Not everyone who attempts to write a "quirky" character can succeed, but I never doubted Setterfield's skill throughout the course of this book.

Recommended for book-lovers.

Other Reviews:
Deslily, Melody, Out of the Blue, Book-a-rama, Maw Books, Becky's Book Reviews, Dewey, Stuff as Dreams are Made Of, Stainless Steel Droppings, Eva

13 comments:

Literary Feline said...

This novel is full of wonderful quotes, isn't it? I am glad you enjoyed it, Kim. I like how you refer to it as "an ode to the pleasures of reading."

Nymeth said...

Yes, "an ode to the pleasures of reading" is a perfect way to put it. I've just finished this one too. Now I understand why book bloggers love it so much!

Rhinoa said...

I haven't heard anyone have anything negative to say about this novel. I really must get around to it soon. Thanks for the great review.

Andi said...

Gah! I'm one of the last few people who haven't read this one. It's staring me down from my shelves right now!

Alice Teh said...

This is a great review, Kim! I have this book in my TBR and I must, must get started on it soon. I love the excerpts you included here. Great stuff!

DesLily said...

This book is really a great read! I read it for the second time recently and enjoyed it every bit as much as the first time!

Glad you enjoyed it too!

mariel said...

Any book that is perfect for book lovers is ok with me!! Looking forward to reading this one..

Stephanie said...

I read this book a few years ago and have forgotten some of the details, but will one day read it again. Glad you enjoyed it!

Trish said...

I really loved this book about books as well. It really made me want to re-read all of those gothic classics Setterfield references. I'm glad you liked it!!

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

This book made me want to read all the Jane Austen books. I'm sure there was a ton of references that I missed.

Marg said...

This was one of my favourite books from a couple of years ago! Totally loved it when I read it, and definitely will have to reread it one day!

My review is here

Carl V. said...

"This book is also an ode to the pleasures of reading"...you certainly have that right! It is not only a pleasurable read on its own but it is even more so for its references to other stories and the obvious love for books that the author has. I smile every time someone discovers this book and enjoys it. It was a deliciously rewarding read.

mari said...

I really liked this book as well. I reviewed it as well not too long ago. It is definitely a favorite this year.