Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sad to Have Finished It

image from
Sometimes, you get a book that's so engrossing that you never want it to end. As the number of pages dwindles, you find excuses to prolong your read. But eventually, it must end. Such was the case with The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

I had a stack of library books to read, but this one (loaned to me by my sister) seemed to keep pulling at me until I gave in. And once I was in, I was in. I was still feeling the scars from my last brush with a trendy, popular novel. But I can see why everyone likes this one so much.

This is the dark, mysterious tale of author Vida Winter and bookshop assistant Margaret Lea. Margaret leads an extremely quiet life. She lives alone, over the shop that her father has managed all her life. It's not an ordinary bookshop -- it deals in rare, expensive books. The clientele are few and far between. Margaret doesn't even have a pet. Then one day, she receives a letter from popular author Vida Winter, inviting her to write her biography.

Vida Winter is also a recluse. She is a master storyteller and prolific, best-selling author. Over the years, she's given hundreds of interviews about her life. None of them have been the truth. But she's aging, and dying. It's time to tell the truth, and Margaret has been chosen on the strength of an essay about twin brothers and diarists.

The story has a dreamy, Gothic quality throughout. The characters, both present and past, seem to live quite outside the world, alone with their obsessions, preoccupations -- and their books. Entombed within vast estates, their dramas play out behind closed doors while the world spins by them unknowing. It's an easy book to get lost in. It's also suspenseful, and full of striking characters. The half-deaf, half-blind aging housekeeper. The sadomasochistic brother obsessed by and grieving over his beautiful sister. The gardener, serving not the estate or a family of his own, but the topiaries nourished by generations of his forbears. And, at the heart of the story, Adeline and Emmeline, the strange, feral twins.

For obvious reasons, I can't say too much about the rest of the book. I highly reccomend you pick it up and find out for yourself. It's one of the most engaging books I've read in a while.