The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield, An Excellent Story

The Thirteenth Tale is Diane Setterfield’s first book written in 2006, and with this book, the author gained a great reputation. I never thought of reading this book as I avoided the authors’ first books and the bestsellers in general. However, despite the passing of years, the popularity of the book made me very curious. Finally, a friend gifted it to me, and I read it. The Thirteenth Tale made me think that I was missing good stories while understanding better why I avoided bestsellers.


The Thirteenth Tale is a mystery and family drama that impresses the reader all at once; it is quite gripping, beautifully written, and contains gothic elements. Margaret Lea is an excellent reader, living a quiet life with her parents, working in her father’s rare book shop, and only writing biographies of the dead.

She is shocked when she receives an invitation from Britain’s best-loved author, the world-famous Vida Winter, to write her biography. Vida Winter has written 56 bestselling books in 56 years and is quite mysterious, tells a different story about her life in every interview and keeps her real life a secret. On the other hand, Margaret has not read any of the books by this very famous author. However, she falls under the spell of the author a few pages later.

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

The real story begins after Margaret Lea and Vida Winter come together. A family that makes people nervous but always succumbs to their curiosity, and that glamorous, strange house where this family has lived for years, Angelfield, will be your family and home as long as you read the book. You’ll get to know twins Emmeline and Adeline, grow up with them, and even admire the side characters who shaped their lives.

I am not a gothic literature enthusiast, but gothic elements are used very well in this book. Also, the stories that run parallel to each other are very cleverly constructed. As you can see, it was delightful to read the stories that were charmingly connected to each other without breaking away from the main story.

The Thirteenth Tale is not a book you will miss a lot if you don’t read it; It has no such depth, no power to change people. However, this is a delightful and gripping novel, and it is one of the books that I think almost every reader will enjoy reading. I kept thinking that it would be an excellent companion while travelling, because wherever you leave it, the moment you return to it, you’ll find yourself in the story. I plan to read the author’s latest novel, Once Upon a River, on my next trip; I’m sure it will be delightful. Oh, I must say The Thirteenth Tale would go very well on long winter days as well. Enjoy!

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale: All children mythologize their birth…So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter’s collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself — all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter’s story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. 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.

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida’s storytelling but remains suspicious of the author’s sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.

Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield is a British author. Her debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale (2006) was published in 38 countries worldwide and has sold more than three million copies. It was number one in the New York Times hardback fiction list for three weeks and is enjoyed as much for being ‘a love letter to reading’ as for its mystery and style. Her second novel is Bellman & Black (2013), an unusual genre-defying meditation on workaholism, Victorian mourning ritual and rooks, and her third, Once Upon a River, will be published in early 2019.

Born in rural Berkshire, Diane spent most of her childhood in the village of Theale. After schooldays at Theale Green, Diane studied French Literature at the University of Bristol. Her PhD was on autobiographical structures in André Gide’s early fiction. She taught English at the Institut Universitaire de Technologie and the Ecole nationale supérieure de Chimie, both in Mulhouse, France, and later lectured in French in the UK. She left academia in the late 1990s to pursue writing.

The Thirteenth Tale was acquired by Heyday Films and adapted for television by the award-winning playwright and scriptwriter, Christopher Hampton. Starring Vanessa Redgrave and Olivia Colman, it was filmed in North Yorkshire and broadcast by BBC2 in 2013.

Diane now lives in Oxford by the Thames. When not writing she reads widely, and when not actually reading she is usually talking or thinking about reading. She is, she says, ‘a reader first, a writer second.’The Thirteenth Tale is her first book.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Reading Challenge 2021

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