The Thirteenth Tale by Diane SetterfieldThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfieldsticker-burst

The Thirteenth Tale

byDiane Setterfield

Paperback | September 25, 2007

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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 still.
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.
Title:The Thirteenth TaleFormat:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 8.21 × 5.72 × 1.05 inPublished:September 25, 2007Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385662858

ISBN - 13:9780385662857


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it!!!! Have read this book a couple of times. When someone borrowed it and I didn't get it back, went and bought a second copy. Will read it again!
Date published: 2018-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this book! Although I read this years ago I really loved this book. It was one that my mum asked for and received for Christmas and then passed it along to me. I just couldn't put it down. I highly recommend it!
Date published: 2017-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent read! A friend recommended this book to me a few years ago and it become a new favourite of mine! A compelling and captivating story with twits and turns that don't allow you to put it down. Would highly recommend!
Date published: 2017-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This book was great!!! I started reading this book not sure if I would like and as I kept reading I could not stop with all the twist in the book, it kept me hooked. If a friend wants a book to read I tell this one for sure.
Date published: 2017-03-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from book of excellence This book was really well written. Diane Setterfield is an amazing writter. The book was awesome, the storyline was excellent. As the story unravels it just got better and better. Really enjoyed this book, very much!
Date published: 2017-01-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Book This book was really well written. Diane Setterfield is an amazing writter. The book was awesome, the storyline was excellent. As the story unravels it just got better and better. Really enjoyed this book, very much!
Date published: 2012-12-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from This book was written by a skilled author. I loved the way she wrote. Everything was described perfectly. I found myself very interested in the story. Some things were confusing but I got them in the end. If you do choose to read this story and you are confused, come to me and I will answer your questions. Overall good book!
Date published: 2010-12-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not for Everyone The novel attracted me by its synopsis and the strong reviews posted by many readers who referred to it as interesting, imaginative and an exciting blend of classics and contemporary fiction…. reminiscent of a classic British novel…I have to admit I am not a fan of classics but a change can sometimes be refreshing. The premise has its merits: a high profile novelist Vida Winter wants her autobiography written before she dies and summons Margaret Lea, an unknown writer who is presently working in her father’s book store to record her words. Margaret readily accepted the invitation, she sees similarities to her own deep secrets.….The story sounds simple enough ... Once started, Vida tells multilayered tales, stories within stories, tragedy upon tragedy some mixed with romance. The characters become lost in a ever lasting story and return for an encore.…. to top it, some even manage to do whatever again in other characters’ stories…. Have I lost you along the way … not surprising… It was hard to keep my mind open and stop it from wandering, I got lost(bored) many times while trying to comprehend this convoluted tale. What a novel, melodrama on top of melodrama, a bouillabaisse of mysteries one hard to follow where place is important (on a Yorkshire Estate) and time irrelevant (19th, 20th, 21st century, today, tomorrow???) I simply had to skip through some paragraphs and speed read others. It was such a tedious read that I am still wondering why I lost so much time ….To finish my ranting, I also hated the characterization seems the only thing on their minds was a cup of cocoa , they were not very memorable….. Ok don’t take my word, I am in the minority disliking this novel most enjoyed it immensely, so give it a try, see if you agree or disagree, we will see which side of the fence you fall on when you fall asleep…..
Date published: 2010-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from For a true book lover. "Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes-characters even-caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you." A quote from the book. The heroine loves books and makes realize how much I love books. There is a variety of twists and turns and a tied in a bow finish. Loved it!!!
Date published: 2010-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Loved it, it's been a while that I read it, but I can not wait for another book by the author.
Date published: 2009-11-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Evocative I dont know why but this book reminded me of old Dickens and Bronte. You know; moors, fog, candlesticks and a breathless mystery. I thought it was entirely original and strongly written. I would recommend it.
Date published: 2009-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In my top ten! One of my favorite reads and is loved by everyone I pass the book onto.
Date published: 2009-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unfortunately... ...a book this magnificent can be read for the very first time once in a lifetime. I wish I could go back to not knowing anything of this story and that I could re-capture the satisfaction that I felt when I finished it. To future readers, be sure to savor every word and to enjoy every detail because this is not a novel to be re-read once it has been finished. Diane Setterfield is a storyteller who knows how to draw the reader in and hold the reader's interest until the very last word on the very last page.
Date published: 2009-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This storey was woven not written. This is the storey of Margaret who is asked to write the biography of Miss Winter's. Miss Winter's is a world class writer, but never tells her storey, well not the truth anyway. Now shes wishes for Margaret to record her true past. This book was so good, and I can't actually say to much as I will give away too much. This storey will have you caught up, and not want to put the book down. It will also keep you guessing through out, and I really like a book where I don't know how it is going to end. Like so many others who wrote reviews I was not sure about the book before I started. It was well worth it. Give this book a try, you will be happy that you did. I can only hope that Diane Setterfield writes a second soon.
Date published: 2009-09-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A good gothic read! This was an enjoyable read. It says on the back cover of the book that it is a love letter to reading, and I whole heartedly agree. The story is simple and its beauty lies in the emotion Setterfield gives her characters for the reader to experience. The story is more felt than simply understood. This novel has gothic elements, which I enjoy very much, and the story keeps you guessing until the very end like a good mystery (minus the cheese). The main character, Margaret Lea, is the quiet and reserved daughter of a bookshop owner. She also has a hobby of writing biographies about select people, preferably deceased. Miss Vida Winter is an internationally loved author on her death bed looking to finally tell her life story to someone worthy and capable of properly recording it. The two characters come together to once and for all go through the true life of Vida Winter, something many people before Margaret had attempted but failed. By mixing the present with the past in a way that makes the reader experience both, this novel is a true example of great storytelling. While I don't personally relate to the experiences of twin life (I may have had I been a twin myself), I do appreciate the way in which Setterfield reflects the good and bad found in all families. She brings to light the fact that every family has skeletons and coming to terms with ones own family secrets allows a person to understand more about themselves. I would love to see a film adaptation of this book and look forward to reading more novels by this Setterfield. A fabulous debut!
Date published: 2009-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic!!!! ***** This book was such a pleasure to read! I'm not usually a non-fiction reader but this book was recommended by a friend. I'm so glad I read it because it is one of the best books I've read this year. The book takes so many twists and the ending is not even close to anything I could ever have predicted. What a wondeful book!
Date published: 2009-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engrossing! It's been a long time since a gothic tale kept me captivated but this one truly did. I loved this book so much that I purchased it for a couple of friends as well! Most original book I've read in years.
Date published: 2009-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Real Page Turner The author was able to weave a tale of intrigue which kept me guessing and anxiously turning the pages. I enjoyed the read so very much that I was sad to finally come to the end of this story. This author is worth another read!!!!
Date published: 2009-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great story! Interesting twist--loved the characters!
Date published: 2009-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from LOVED IT when is Diane Setterfield ever going to write another book!!!
Date published: 2009-04-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I was hooked! Diane Settterfield hooked me very early in her tale of secrets and mysteries and ghosts both literal and figurative. I was drawn in to the characters' lives and befriended them and now that I'm done the book -- I miss them. I even liked the Cat! A story about stories, The Thirteenth Tale is a book that will stay with me a long time.
Date published: 2009-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A very unique story I had found this book while searching online and figured it would be a good book to read. I loved the way the pages were already frayed, it made the book seem so unique to me already. Although the story itself started out slow, once Miss Winter's story picked up I found myself guessing what would come next, and while I thought the story would go in a completely different direction the climax whipped it in another. I thought the ending was a bit rushed, as it came so soon after what I considered the climax of the book, which was a bit disappointing but nonetheless I couldn't stop thinking about this book even after I was finished. I found myself going through the story again and again figuring out all of the little things I missed. It is a very uniquely written story, a book I couldn't put down.
Date published: 2009-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Really Good The book overall was enticing; you couldn't put the book down because you had to see what happens next. I recommend this book to people who would enjoy the stories and concepts of books like "Jane Eyre", "Wuthering Heights", "Woman in White" etc. The only problem I had with the book is the hasty ending. It wasn't a horrible ending to the story; it was just really rushed.
Date published: 2008-12-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from meh... I was expecting so much from this book, only to be bitterly disappointed. Half way through the story I stopped caring about the protagonist and the "thirteenth tale" as it was told was ultimately not that exciting after all. With so many other amazing reads out there, I'd recommend you pass this one up.
Date published: 2008-11-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is my favorite book of all time I read and reread this book because it is the best story that I have ever read in my entire life. It is such a whirlwind tale that takes you to unexpected places, meeting wonderful real characters. I just adored this book
Date published: 2008-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Couldn't Put It Down I first bought the book because it had such an attractive cover, which is bad I know. I wasn't dissappointed though. The first few pages were a bit slow, but I kept on reading and was definately hooked to its pages.
Date published: 2008-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield A well written book which keeps you rivited to each page from cover to cover. With the ending a suprise. Well worth reading.
Date published: 2008-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Applause for Diane Setterfield Something kept drawing me back to this book, I must have picked it up eight times on various visits to the bookstore. Last week I finally bought this rapturous tale. This book devoured me as I delved into the past lives and the ghosts both living and dead of the various characters. It is rare to find a book that I crave to stay up until 4 in the morning to complete. I look forward to many more great adventures from this author and will remember next time to start her books on Friday instead of during the work week:) I suggest reading this book, it will not disappoint.
Date published: 2008-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Mystery Full of Suspense I truly enjoyed Setterfield's mystery. It had me guessing up until the last few chapters! She did a great job of protraying the characters, they were robust and real. I especially loved Aurelius. I would definitely read more of her novels....there are more coming, right?!
Date published: 2008-08-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A book lover's book... Diane Setterfield's first novel is a wonderful accomplishment. This is a book lover's book- even the book's cover and the weight of the pages appealed to the bibliophile in me. But beyond the aesthetics of the book, Setterfield tells a rip roarin' tale, an old-fashioned tale filled with mystery and intrigue and personal ghosts. Margaret Lea lives a quiet life, working with her father in their little antiquarian bookstore. We know very little about Margaret other than the fact that she is close to her father, but not to her mother. She is unmarried. We don't know how old she is. We do learn, early on, that she is a surviving twin- a fact she stumbles upon quite by accident when she is young and a piece of her family history which haunts her throughout her life. Then Vida Winter, the most celebrated writer of the time, writes to Margaret inviting her to hear the truth of her life- a life which has been largely reclusive. This story is the subject of The Thirteenth Tale. And it is a tale that is Gothic, relying on the conventions of literature from the 18th and 19th centuries: ghosts and secrets and unrequited love abound in its pages. It's a page-turner in the very best sense. And as the story's mystery unravels, you'll find yourself wondering whether all the clues were there from the very beginning...and want to go back to trace the breadcrumb trail.
Date published: 2008-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Brilliant Debut I recently made it a personal goal of mine to read every book on the Heather's Pick table at our store; I walk past them everyday, why not have something to say about each and every one? The Thirteenth Tale was one of 5 Heather's Pick's that I purchased and it was the last one I got to; I'd unknowingly saved the best for last. I took it with me on a camping trip knowing that I'd have four days to throw myself into the story. The first line drew me in and every interruption irritated me to no end. When I finally found a few hours of silence to read in peace I found myself connected to Margaret Lea, the novels main character. Nothing else in my world mattered but that story, I was hooked until the last word, the last period. For a first novel, The Thirteenth Tale is brilliant and no doubt a future classic. The character development, the emotional connection to the story, it was storytelling at it's best. I recommend The Thirteenth Tale to absolutely anyone, I would be surprised if you didn't fall in love with it.
Date published: 2008-06-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hard to put down! This book started off a little slow but had my full attention after a short period of time, it was mysterious and hard to put down. The novel takes place in modern time but bounces back to the past, Setterfield does an excellent job of transitioning from past to present and has created a very enchanting novel, I would suggest this book to any book lover.
Date published: 2008-06-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very Interesting Read I've been meaning to read this book ever since it first came out - most of my staff have read it and all seemed to at least like it, if not love it. It was a book that sucked you in and made it hard to put down. Margaret Lea works in her father's antique bookshop and write biographies of long dead people. She gets contacted by Vida Winters to write her biography - Winters who is the most important English writer alive today. Who is know for spinning a different story every time she speaks to a reporter. But her time is coming to an end and she is determined to speak the truth. And the biographer and subject have some similarities. The truth has been hidden, their stories have not been told. While I did enjoy this book, some of the story was a bit fanciful. And the twist cheated something out of the first half of the story a bit for me. I did like it though, and I would recommend it but it wasn't the best book ever.
Date published: 2008-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thirteenth Tale The story is a must read for book lovers. As I started the book and curled up to read it, I discover a character who curls up and reads her books as well. It was a fascinating experience. I couldn't put it down and I had to discover the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale.
Date published: 2008-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Masterpiece! This was an excellent book! It was a gothic tale with a modern mindset that rivals all the great "family secret" type plots. A must read for anyone who enjoys the Bronte sisters type of story with the mystery that is pieced together in the end.
Date published: 2008-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing. I absolutely loved this book. It was mysterious, exciting and I could never guess what was going to happen next.
Date published: 2008-01-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hard to put down! I found the beginning to be uninviting, however, once I got through the first 20 pages and got into Miss Winter's story, I was hooked. I would definitely recommend this book.
Date published: 2008-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Didn;t want it to end This was the best book I have read in a long time. I was intrigued from start to finish. I got lost in the story wondering which was going to be the next twist in the plot. I cannot wait to see if Ms. Setterfield write another novel.
Date published: 2008-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating! A very different novel - written for dedicated readers. Although dark and often bizarre - a wonderful premise for a story and utterly intriguing. It's very difficult to put down once you've started and the atmosphere of the book pervades one's day. The story - or tale, really in the truest sense of a tall tale is convoluted and ever surprising. A unique novel, well worth reading.
Date published: 2008-01-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Really Great The novel sounds like it will be a biography about the fame of a well-known fictional author, Vida Winter. However, it becomes clear there is a deep and complex mystery behind Ms. Winter's life. This book will astonish the reader with its many twists and turns, and the ending will come as a shock and surprise.
Date published: 2008-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enchanting The Thirteenth Tale will feed your imagination with beautifully written imagery and a great story to keep those pages turning well into the night. Encapturing your "readers spirit" with the mystery of Vida Winter's life and Margaret Lea's search for her's a book you'll want to experience again, once its all over with.
Date published: 2008-01-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Classically styled The author had me from the start. Although not the fastest paced read, I truly enjoyed the development of the characters and I was left with that empy feeling when it was done. My determination of a good read is if I want to hear what happened next in the life (lives) of the character(s). This was just such a book. I look forward to the author's next work.
Date published: 2008-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! This is a great first book! I was absolutly mezmerised from the beginning and could not put it down until it was finished! Very well written! I suggest it to anyone who wants a really good page-turner.
Date published: 2007-12-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A great book from a new author This is the debut novel for Diane Setterfield and I can tell you it's a great start. It's about Margaret Lea, a woman who is asked to hear the true biography of a famous author, who up until now has always lied about her past. Like is says on the back cover The Thirteenth tale fits in with classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and I agree. It has an older, classic feel but in addition it has a modern way about it too. Easy and interesting to read, I will be suggesting it to my friends. Good if you like a bit of mystery in what you read too.
Date published: 2007-12-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fantastic Read! They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but the moment I pulled it out of the box I was attracted. As I walked past its shelf every day I heard an enchanting melody calling for me to pick it up and glance through its pages. The cover image was my idea of what heaven looks like, a stack of vibrantly coloured, beautifully bounded books. When I finally responded to the song it was singing to me, it was as if art was imitating life. A young woman, sitting on her favourite chair, wrapped in a blanket with a mug of tea reading her book on a cold, rainy fall day. A shiver went up my spine and I quickly disappeared into Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. This delightful story is about a fellow bookseller, Margaret Lea, who is asked to write the only truthful story Vida Winter, a much-loved and well respected author, has ever told; her biography. As Vida Winter recounts her life dark family secrets are revealed and old ghosts creep up on both Vida and Margaret. When someone asks me what the best book I’ve read lately I feel confident recommending The Thirteenth Tale. I know they will love it. It is about family. Everyone can relate to this novel. We all have secrets to keep; some are more dangerous than others. Vida’s secrets are what made her the prolific writer she is. Margaret’s secrets make her the introvert she is. Their secrets shaped their lives. This is a story about families, about sisters and the bond they share. Setterfield has accurately depicted the unspoken bond that sisters share. Over the past year or so, I have finally realized the special bond that I have with my own sister. Although we are separated by many years, and don’t always agree, I would be lost with out her. Margaret has lost her sister, the emptiness she feels without her there, is one of my greatest fears; to lose a part of myself, a part of my soul, my sister and the connection we share. There are several passages in the novel referring to reading and the love of books and stories which is what makes it that much easier for me to fall in love with it. Reading is a solitary thing and it is hard to believe sometimes how so many people out there share the same experience that I do when I jump into the pages of a book. Margaret made me feel less alone in my many journeys into a good novel. I think this a part of the reason why so many people out there have fallen in love with The Thirteenth Tale. It is part of the reason why I felt so connected to Margaret. The Thirteenth Tale is a novel that will stay with me. I took the story Diane Setterfield wrote and made it a part of my own. I never knew someone could write a novel which accurately depicts the connection sisters share, without an over the top bonding experience. The Thirteenth Tale broke a rule I never knew existed. The Thirteenth Tale simply is one of the best books I read all year.
Date published: 2007-12-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Thirteenth Tale I was disappointed with this book. Although the story was interesting enough to keep me reading I found it to be a rather strange tale. I was looking forward to reading this book and I had browsed thru it on several different occasions before actually purchasing it.
Date published: 2007-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from mezmerizing I absolutely loved this book. I belong to a reading club and it was our selection. We always poll the room for a rating from each member. Most of us gave it a ten out of ten with no hesitation.I loved the character development .You relate to each person.So many twists to the plot, it's a real page turner. I couldn't put it down. There was so much lively discussion at the club. You could read this again and catch more of it. It leaves one with a sense of wonder.All the characters were wonderful. One could compare it it to "Jane Eyre", albeit loosely. I highly recommend it.!!!!
Date published: 2007-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quite the story!! This book is Setterfield's debut novel, and quite a magical one at that. The Thirteenth Tale explores the life of famous novelist Vida Winter. Winter has worked with many different biographers before and given each one of them a different tale about her history. Once she gets sick, however, she selects Margaret Lea to come write her real biography. Margaret wonders why she, an amateur who has only written about dead people, has been selected by one of the most famous novelists in the world. The relationship between the two character is at time strained but it eventually blossoms into respect and friendship. Margaret herself has some life issues to work out. A secret she found out when she was young has changed everything for her. The relationship with her mother is strained. I didn't feel like I quite understood the relationship when I was reading the book. In fact I thought that Margaret was avoiding her mother until I was specifically told otherwise in the book. It would have been nice to get that a little clearer towards the beginning of the novel. Looking back on the book, the plot line was fairly complicated. But Setterfield gives you just enough information for you to be able to figure things out on your own, if you're smart enough! I love the way she very slowly peels back the layers until the truth is exposed underneath. Some of the descriptions given in the book are fantastic! I think my very favourite was when Margaret was at Miss Winter's house and looking out the window when it started to rain and her face started to melt with the rain. It was such a great description of something that you see all the time but never really pay attention to. I would definitely recommend this book and will be looking out for Setterfield's next book.
Date published: 2007-09-29

Read from the Book

The Letter It was November. Although it was not yet late, the sky was dark when I turned into Laundress Passage. Father had finished for the day, switched off the shop lights and closed the shutters; but so I would not come home to darkness he had left on the light over the stairs to the flat. Through the glass in the door it cast a foolscap rectangle of paleness onto the wet pavement, and it was while I was standing in that rectangle, about to turn my key in the door, that I first saw the letter. Another white rectangle, it was on the fifth step from the bottom, where I couldn't miss it.I closed the door and put the shop key in its usual place behind Bailey's Advanced Principles of Geometry. Poor Bailey. No one has wanted his fat gray book for thirty years. Sometimes I wonder what he makes of his role as guardian of the bookshop keys. I don't suppose it's the destiny he had in mind for the masterwork that he spent two decades writing.A letter. For me. That was something of an event. The crisp-cornered envelope, puffed up with its thickly folded contents, was addressed in a hand that must have given the postman a certain amount of trouble. Although the style of the writing was old-fashioned, with its heavily embellished capitals and curly flourishes, my first impression was that it had been written by a child. The letters seemed untrained. Their uneven strokes either faded into nothing or were heavily etched into the paper. There was no sense of flow in the letters that spelled out my name. Each had been undertaken separately -- M A R G A R E T L E A -- as a new and daunting enterprise. But I knew no children. That is when I thought, It is the hand of an invalid.It gave me a queer feeling. Yesterday or the day before, while I had been going about my business, quietly and in private, some unknown person -- some stranger -- had gone to the trouble of marking my name onto this envelope. Who was it who had had his mind's eye on me while I hadn't suspected a thing?Still in my coat and hat, I sank onto the stair to read the letter. (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 opened the letter and pulled out a sheaf of half a dozen pages, all written in the same laborious script. Thanks to my work, I am experienced in the reading of difficult manuscripts. There is no great secret to it. Patience and practice are all that is required. That and the willingness to cultivate an inner eye. When you read a manuscript that has been damaged by water, fire, light or just the passing of the years, your eye needs to study not just the shape of the letters but other marks of production. The speed of the pen. The pressure of the hand on the page. Breaks and releases in the flow. You must relax. Think of nothing. Until you wake into a dream where you are at once a pen flying over vellum and the vellum itself with the touch of ink tickling your surface. Then you can read it. The intention of the writer, his thoughts, his hesitations, his longings and his meaning. You can read as clearly as if you were the very candlelight illuminating the page as the pen speeds over it.Not that this letter was anything like as challenging as some. It began with a curt "Miss Lea"; thereafter the hieroglyphs resolved themselves quickly into characters, then words, then sentences.This is what I read:I once did an interview for the Banbury Herald. I must look it out one of these days, for the biography. Strange chap they sent me. A boy, really. As tall as a man, but with the puppy fat of youth. Awkward in his new suit. The suit was brown and ugly and meant for a much older man. The collar, the cut, the fabric, all wrong. It was the kind of thing a mother might buy for a boy leaving school for his first job, imagining that her child will somehow grow into it. But boys do not leave their boyhood behind when they leave off their school uniform.There was something in his manner. An intensity. The moment I set eyes on him, I thought, "Aha, what's he after?"I've nothing against people who love truth. Apart from the fact that they make dull companions. Just so long as they don't start on about storytelling and honesty, the way some of them do. Naturally that annoys me. But provided they leave me alone, I won't hurt them.My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails? No. When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don't expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.Some writers don't like interviews of course. They get cross about it. "Same old questions," they complain. Well, what do they expect? Reporters are hacks. We writers are the real thing. Just because they always ask the same questions, it doesn't mean we have to give them the same old answers, does it? I mean, making things up, it's what we do for a living. So I give dozens of interviews a year. Hundreds over the course of a lifetime. For I have never believed that genius needs to be locked away out of sight to thrive. My genius is not so frail a thing that it cowers from the dirty fingers of the newspapermen.In the early years they used to try to catch me out. They would do research, come along with a little piece of truth concealed in their pocket, draw it out at an opportune moment and hope to startle me into revealing more. I had to be careful. Inch them in the direction I wanted them to take, use my bait to draw them gently, imperceptibly, toward a prettier story than the one they had their eye on. A delicate operation. Their eyes would start to shine, and their grasp on the little chip of truth would loosen, until it dropped from their hand and fell, disregarded, by the wayside. It never failed. A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth. Afterward, once I became famous, the Vida Winter interview became a sort of rite of passage for journalists. They knew roughly what to expect, would have been disappointed to leave without the story. A quick run through the normal questions (Where do you get your inspiration? Are your characters based on real people? How much of your main character is you?) and the shorter my answers the better they liked it. (Inside my head. No. None.) Then, the bit they were waiting for, the thing they had really come for. A dreamy, expectant look stole across their faces. They were like little children at bedtime. And you, Miss Winter, they said. Tell me about yourself.And I told. Simple little stories really, not much to them. Just a few strands, woven together in a pretty pattern, a memorable motif here, a couple of sequins there. Mere scraps from the bottom of my ragbag. Hundreds more where they came from. Offcuts from novels and stories, plots that never got finished, stillborn characters, picturesque locations I never found a use for. Odds and ends that fell out in the editing. Then it's just a matter of neatening the edges, stitching in the ends, and it's done. Another brand-new biography.They went away happy, clutching their notebooks in their paws like children with sweets at the end of a birthday party. It would be something to tell their grandchildren. "One day I met Vida Winter, and she told me a story."Anyway, the boy from the Banbury Herald. He said, "Miss Winter, tell me the truth." Now, what kind of appeal is that? I've had people devise all kinds of stratagems to trick me into telling, and I can spot them a mile off, but that? Laughable. I mean, whatever did he expect?A good question. What did he expect? His eyes were glistening with an intent fever. He watched me so closely. Seeking. Probing. He was after something quite specific, I was sure of it. His forehead was damp with perspiration. Perhaps he was sickening for something. Tell me the truth, he said.I felt a strange sensation inside. Like the past coming to life. The watery stirring of a previous life turning in my belly, creating a tide that rose in my veins and sent cool wavelets to lap at my temples. The ghastly excitement of it. Tell me the truth.I considered his request. I turned it over in my mind, weighed up the likely consequences. He disturbed me, this boy, with his pale face and his burning eyes."All right," I said.An hour later he was gone. A faint, absentminded good-bye and no backward glance.I didn't tell him the truth. How could I? I told him a story. An impoverished, malnourished little thing. No sparkle, no sequins, just a few dull and faded patches, roughly tacked together with the edges left frayed. The kind of story that looks like real life. Or what people imagine real life to be, which is something rather different. It's not easy for someone of my talent to produce a story like that.I watched him from the window. He shuffled away up the street, shoulders drooping, head bowed, each step a weary effort. All that energy, the charge, the verve, gone. I had killed it. Not that I take all the blame. He should have known better than to believe me.I never saw him again.That feeling I had, the current in my stomach, my temples, my fingertips -- it remained with me for quite a while. It rose and fell, with the memory of the boy's words. Tell me the truth. "No," I said. Over and over again. "No." But it wouldn't be still. It was a distraction. More than that, it was a danger. In the end I did a deal. "Not yet." It sighed, it fidgeted, but eventually it fell quiet. So quiet that I as good as forgot about it.What a long time ago that was. Thirty years? Forty? More, perhaps. Time passes more quickly than you think.The boy has been on my mind lately. Tell me the truth. And lately I have felt again that strange inner stirring. There is something growing inside me, dividing and multiplying. I can feel it, in my stomach, round and hard, about the size of a grapefruit. It sucks the air out of my lungs and gnaws the marrow from my bones. The long dormancy has changed it. From being a meek and biddable thing, it has become a bully. It refuses all negotiation, blocks discussion, insists on its rights. It won't take no for an answer. The truth, it echoes, calling after the boy, watching his departing back. And then it turns to me, tightens its grip on my innards, gives a twist. We made a deal, remember?It is time.Come on Monday. I will send a car to meet you from the half past four arrival at Harrogate Station.Vida WinterHow long did I sit on the stairs after reading the letter? I don't know. For I was spellbound. There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic. When I at last woke up to myself, I could only guess what had been going on in the darkness of my unconsciousness. What had the letter done to me?I knew very little about Vida Winter. I was aware naturally of the various epithets that usually came attached to her name: England's best-loved writer; our century's Dickens; the world's most famous living author; and so on. I knew of course that she was popular, though the figures, when I later researched them, still came as a surprise. Fifty-six books published in fifty-six years; they are translated into forty-nine languages; Miss Winter has been named twenty-seven times the most borrowed author from English libraries; nineteen feature films have been based on her novels. In terms of statistics, the most disputed question is this: Has she or has she not sold more books than the Bible? The difficulty comes less from working out how many books she has sold (an ever-changing figure in the millions) than in obtaining solid figures for the Bible -- whatever one thinks of the word of God, his sales data are notoriously unreliable. The figure that might have interested me the most, as I sat there at the bottom of the stairs, was twenty-two. This was the number of biographers who, for want of information, or lack of encouragement, or after inducements or threats from Miss Winter herself, had been persuaded to give up trying to discover the truth about her. But I knew none of this then. I knew only one statistic, and it was one that seemed relevant: How many books by Vida Winter had I, Margaret Lea, read? None.I shivered on the stairs, yawned and stretched. Returning to myself, I found that my thoughts had been rearranged in my absence. Two items in particular had been selected out of the unheeded detritus that is my memory and placed for my attention.The first was a little scene involving my father. A box of books we are unpacking from a private library clearance includes a number of Vida Winters. At the shop we don't deal in contemporary fiction. "I'll take them to the charity shop in my lunch hour," I say, and leave them on the side of the desk. But before the morning is out, three of the four books are gone. Sold. One to a priest, one to a cartographer, one to a military historian. Our clients' faces, with the customary outward paleness and inner glow of the book lover, seem to light up when they spot the rich colors of the paperback covers. After lunch, when we have finished the unpacking and the cataloging and the shelving and we have no customers, we sit reading as usual. It is late autumn, it is raining and the windows have misted up. In the background is the hiss of the gas heater; we hear the sound without hearing it for, side by side, together and miles apart, we are deep in our books."Shall I make tea?" I ask, surfacing.No answer.I make tea all the same and put a cup next to him on the desk.An hour later the untouched tea is cold. I make a fresh pot and put another steaming cup beside him on the desk. He is oblivious to my every movement.Gently I tilt the volume in his hands so that I can see the cover. It is the fourth Vida Winter. I return the book to its original position and study my father's face. He cannot hear me. He cannot see me. He is in another world, and I am a ghost.That was the first memory.The second is an image. In three-quarter profile, carved massively out of light and shade, a face towers over the commuters who wait, stunted, beneath. It is only an advertising photograph pasted on a billboard in a railway station, but to my mind's eye it has the impassive grandeur of long-forgotten queens and deities carved into rock faces by ancient civilizations. To contemplate the exquisite arc of the eye; the broad, smooth sweep of the cheekbones; the impeccable line and proportions of the nose, is to marvel that the randomness of human variation can produce something so supernaturally perfect as this. Such bones, discovered by the archaeologists of the future, would seem an artifact, a product not of blunt-tooled nature but of the very peak of artistic endeavor. The skin that embellishes these remarkable bones has the opaque luminosity of alabaster; it appears paler still by contrast with the elaborate twists and coils of copper hair that are arranged with such precision about the fine temples and down the strong, elegant neck.As if this extravagant beauty were not enough, there are the eyes. Intensified by some photographic sleight of hand to an inhuman green, the green of glass in a church window, or of emeralds or of boiled sweets, they gaze out over the heads of the commuters with perfect inexpression. I can't say whether the other travelers that day felt the same way as I about the picture; they had read the books, so they may have had a different perspective on things. But for me, looking into the large green eyes, I could not help being reminded of that commonplace expression about the eyes being the gateway to the soul. This woman, I remember thinking, as I gazed at her green, unseeing eyes, does not have a soul.Such was, on the night of the letter, the extent of my knowledge about Vida Winter. It was not much. Though on reflection perhaps it was as much as anyone else might know. For although everyone knew Vida Winter -- knew her name, knew her face, knew her books -- at the same time nobody knew her. As famous for her secrets as for her stories, she was a perfect mystery.Now, if the letter was to be believed, Vida Winter wanted to tell the truth about herself. This was curious enough in itself, but curiouser still was my next thought: Why should she want to tell it to me?

Bookclub Guide

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 novel.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 novel?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?

Editorial Reviews

“Confident, creepy and absorbing.” —Sunday Times (UK)“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.” —Library Journal “[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.” — Edmonton Journal"Setterfield has crafted an homage to the romantic heroines of du Maurier, Collins and the Brontes ... enchanting Goth for the 21st century."–Kirkus"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."–The Independent"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