From the Publisher
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. In the end, both women have to confront their pasts and the
weight of family secrets. As well as the ghosts that haunt them
From the Jacket
"Confident, creepy and absorbing." -Sunday Times
"Whimsical, moving and consciously nostalgic, Diane Setterfield
knows the limits of enchantment, even as she tries to break them."
-Times Literary Supplement
"Graceful storytelling." - Publishers Weekly
"A gothic novel . . . [that] grabs the reader with its damp,
icy fingers and doesn't let go until the last shocking secret has
been revealed. . . . Setterfield's first novel is equally suited to
a rainy afternoon on the couch or a summer day on the beach."
"[This] is a book for people who both love books and know the
importance of stories… Diane Setterfield works that magic in her
book. . . . Setterfield spins her tale with the skill and
confidence of a born storyteller. . . . If the reader craves
stories, Setterfield's tale will satisfy their hunger. A solid
debut from a writer readers will want to hear more from." -
"Setterfield has crafted an homage to the romantic heroines of du
Maurier, Collins and the Brontes ... enchanting Goth for the 21st
"Diane Setterfield has created a remarkably compelling debut…
Although The Thirteenth Tale has a trance-like
feel, the plot is razor-sharp and becomes more complex towards the
end; the twists and turns in the final few chapters of this novel
demand that the reader pay close attention to every word before
being left shaken and surprised by the turn of events…. This is an
extraordinary, unusual and atmospheric story with a sense of
timelessness about it. It is rare to be able to smell a book as
well as read it, but this one is steeped in the aroma of old houses
in remote places with strange faded furnishings and little natural
light. It will appeal to anybody with a love of literature and a
passion for the feel and smell of old books."
-Scotland on Sunday
"The Thirteenth Tale is a cleverly
plotted, beautifully written homage to the classic romantic mystery
novel… Gothic elements are skilfully re-imagined in a peculiar tale
of madness, murder, incest and dark secrets…. It is a remarkable
first book, a book about the joy of books, a riveting multi-layered
mystery that twists and turns, and weaves a quite magical spell for
most of its length."
"A remarkable first novel… a reader's dream… Only five short
chapters into Setterfield's deft, enthralling narrative, her
readers too have been transported… Richly atmospheric and deeply
satisfying… Old-fashioned in the best sense, it's an urgently
readable novel that's nearly impossible to put down."
-Barnes & Noble Recommends
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Diane Setterfield is in her early forties. Having spent time in
France, she now lives in Harrogate. Her background is an academic
one. Her previous publications have been in the field of 19th and
20th century French literature, especially the works of André Gide.
1. Adeline and Emmeline grew up without their mother Isabelle's
attention. What role did the Missus and Hester play in their lives?
How did the women differ in their treatment of the twins?
2. There are many references to Jane Eyre and
Wuthering Heights in the novel. In what ways is
The Thirteenth Tale influenced by the tradition of
the Gothic novel? What Gothic themes and symbols stand out most
strongly in the novel?
3. Discuss Vida Winter both as a narrator and as a character.
What sort of voice does she have? How does she represent her own
actions? Does she seem to be a trustworthy storyteller? Are we
expected to accept her story at face value?
4. Early in the novel, Margaret explains, "I read old novels.
The reason is simple: I prefer proper endings. Marriages and
deaths, noble sacrifices and miraculous restorations, tragic
separations and unhoped-for reunions, great falls and dreams
fulfilled; these, in my view, constitute an ending worth the wait."
At their first meeting, Vida Winter makes Margaret promise not to
ask any questions or jump ahead through her story. The
Thirteenth Tale itself is structured into three parts -
"Beginnings," "Middles," and "Endings"-plus one. Why do you think
the author included another "Beginning" at the conclusion? Did the
story end for you there?
5. Margaret points out to Vida that the first time she uses "I"
in telling the story happens after the discovery that Isabelle has
died. Why do you think this is? What is the significance of Vida
Winter's transitions between different points of view?
6. The relationship of Adeline and Emmeline with their mother
was almost non-existent. Margaret speaks of her own strained
relationship with her mother. Compare the relationships of mothers
and daughters in the book.
7. Discuss the role the bond between twins plays in the
8. Margaret Lea is a consummate reader while Vida Winter is
presented as the most famous living writer in the English language.
They are connected through a love of books and stories. How do
books and storytelling play a constant role throughout the
9. Vida Winter states, "A good story is always more dazzling
than a broken piece of truth," while Margaret Lea notes, "I''m a
biographer. I work with facts." Aurelius visits Ms. Winter
disguised as a reporter and asks her for the truth. Discuss Vida
Winter's desire to finally share the truth. What does she hope to
accomplish by telling her true story?
10. The Thirteenth Tale has been described as a
"good old-fashioned ghost story." What techniques does Diane
Setterfield use to build suspense throughout the novel?
11. Characters throughout the novel are curious about the
missing thirteenth tale from Winter's book Thirteen Tales
of Change and Desperation. What is the thirteenth tale and
why do you think it was withdrawn from the collection?