Friday, February 2, 2018

Diane Setterfield - The Thirteenth Tale

Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten. It was once the imposing home of the March family - fascinating, manipulative Isabelle, Charlie, her brutal and dangerous brother, and the wild, untamed twins, Emmeline and Adeline. But Angelfield House conceals a chilling secret whose impact still resonates ...
Now Margaret Lea is investigating Angelfield's past - and the mystery of the March family starts to unravel. What has the house been hiding? What is its connection with the enigmatic author Vida Winter? And what is it in Margaret's own troubled past that causes her to fall so powerfully under Angelfield's spell?

Comment: I've had my eye on this book for a long time. The original publication date goes back to 2006, so basically this book has been out for 12 years...I probably have wanted to read it for at least half of that time but as so many other books, I just never got to it and it languished in the TBR. Last year I finally bought ( this is the beauty of waiting, years after, the paperbacks can be much cheaper) and it ended up being my last read of January.

This is a difficult book to categorize but I can say it's the story of Vida Winter, a well known writer in the UK that after years of secrets and unchecked tales, has finally gotten a biographer to write her true story. Vida is famous but no one knows who she was before she got famous.
The biographer she chooses is Margaret Lea, a woman who is bookish, lonely but who has a simple life and her parents to care about although her relationship with her mother has always been one of indifference mostly due to the death of her twin when they were babies.
In Vida's past there is a also a pair of twin sisters and that must be why Margaret was picked but while she adds clues and starts to write down what Vida tells her, she realizes that besides secrets and tragedies, there is a lot more to find out about what happened all those years ago in Vida's childhood house...

Overall, I enjoyed reading this novel. Some situations weren't as interesting to me, to be honest, but it was mysterious enough to make me read more and find out the secrets behind Vida's public persona.
The mystery turns out to be quite well engineered but it just seems unlikely to have been kept a secret the way it was because there were several people involved. Although it's still fascinating, the explanation for some things does look far fetched.

What made me be really seduced by this story was how, in the beginning, the focus was on Margaret, a woman that was dedicated to books, worked in her father's book shop, preferred reading to have a social life, still lived with her parents as a grown up, was a bit of a loner, liked to stay at home reading, found libraries incredible...well, apart from the other details that were more necessary for plot purposes (having had a twin sister, being a researcher and being interested in 19th century literature, mainly obscure stuff), she was pretty much just like myself, I must say, and I could immediately empathize and imagine myself in her position. I wanted to know more about Margret and I imagined the story would be about her research letting her know more about herself in the process.

This means the plot can be divided into two main sections, which are interwoven together throughout the story: a) Margaret's current research and writing down Vida's tale and her experience while staying at Vida's house and b) the events of Vida's past and childhood and why she felt like writing down her memoirs now that she is ill.
Most of the time is spent getting to know all the characters that lived alongside Vida's childhood and growing years before she was a writer but I confess I was more interested in the now and how the characters that are alive now cope. I usually tend to prefer the contemporary side in dual timed stories. Therefore, I was a bit disappointed more focus wasn't given to Margaret except the why she felt so at ease discovering things and exploiting the idea of ghosts, quite an element in this story, which proves to be quite realistic.

The big mystery has quite an explanation. I won't go into it, but some details just felt too much a "stage" and I wasn't too impressed with the hows even if the whys were quite a study on human actions and mind processes.
One of the elements that best suits this story is the constant references to other books, to literature, to the notion of an author being  a liar most of the time... several concepts were well inserted into the story and they made everything feel more intuitive.

In the end I would have liked different details to have been given, I wish Margaret would have been given more focus and we could have more than simple hypothesis about her future. There is a lot to be sad about since the biggest portion of this story is about tragedy and unfortunate events.
It was quite a journey, though.
Grade: 7/10

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