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

The Thirteenth Tale

byDiane Setterfield

Paperback | June 18, 2013

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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 × 5.2 × 1 inPublished:June 18, 2013Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385680406

ISBN - 13:9780385680400


Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not that great Honestly I too was attracted to the cover and the synopsis I read about it. But after receiving the book I had to return it. I knew it was one I couldnt get into.
Date published: 2019-02-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Thirteenth Tale. The cover of this book caught my eye, I thought it beautiful and for this reason alone purchased the book. I had not read anything by this author before, so if not for the cover I would have missed out on a great story, a wonderfully crafted tale I got lost in.
Date published: 2019-01-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Read - Beautiful Writing This book was definitely not what I was expecting. The writing was beautiful and the author is certainly descriptive enough that I felt drawn to the story and the characters. I was transported into the novel with the authors descriptive writing and the "mystery" aspect of the novel. I really wanted to love it more than I did after reading some reviews. I think if it weren't for the authors talent in writing, the storyline wouldn't have been as captivating on its own. I did keep reading because I was interesting in finding out what happened and what the mystery of Miss Winters is, but as another reviewer noted, it was a bit too "creepy" at points for me to really enjoy. I wouldn't describe this as a good quick or beach read, but if you would like a book to read and take your time with, then this book may be a better choice. I certainly didn't see the end coming, so I was still surprised at the end as it was not very predictable.
Date published: 2019-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spellbinding! This is one of my favourite books and I feel like it's very underrated. Great for anyone who's a book lover, loves historic books, or loves a mystery.
Date published: 2018-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read It took a few chapters for me to really get into this, but once I did I couldn't put it down. It was very good - eerie at times. I would definitely recommend!
Date published: 2018-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best books! Diane Setterfield is from Yorkshire England and The Thirteenth Tale takes place in England. It is her debut novel and it is a #1 New York Times Bestseller. I fell in love with this novel from the very first page. It is a multi-layered novel about twinness and belonging. It begins with Margaret Lea and her parents and her deceased twin. Then Viva Winter, the sought after author of many novels but in particular the one entitled Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation; however, there are only 12 tales, the 13th unwritten. Viva Winter employs Margaret Lea to write her biography. Viva Winter, herself a twin, tells her story and Margaret uncovers her secrets and in the process deals not only with her twinness but also befriends a giant by the name of Aurelius who initially appears to be without family. Angelfield - an estate now in ruin- holds the secrets, the ancestry and the revelations of Viva Winter's life and the Thirteenth Tale.
Date published: 2018-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Never have I read such a beautifully written gothic novel! "One gets so used to one's own horrors, one forgets how they must seem to other people," The Thirteenth Tale is one of the most amazing books I have read. It follows a biographer and her journey in finding about Vida Winter, most renowned author of her time. For the past 56 years, she has been lying about her past and it is finally time to tell the truth. It is a story of ghosts and monsters, love and heartbreaks, and it is a story which will change you in a profound way. It is beautifully written and many may say that it was too long, or it could have been better written; but let me tell you, those descriptions were absolutely necessary for the reader to get a grasp of the situation. Once you start reading it, you will not be able to stop. It is a beautiful story and it will break your heart, it will infuriate you and it will cause you to lose hope in humanity as well as regain hope for the existence of guardian angels.
Date published: 2018-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very interesting this book was a wild ride. super interesting & the writing was well done.
Date published: 2018-04-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not that bad an okay book I didn't love this book and I didn't hate it either. It has its interesting parts and is somewhat creepy but not to the point where you get scared. Still would recommened for you to read. I wish it was a bit more exciting.Its one of those books where you could read and then put down and repeat again. Not really binge worthy.
Date published: 2018-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I couldn't put the book down! I bought this book about a week ago because I wanted something to read during my March Break. I am pleased to say that once I picked up this book, I couldn't put it down. Very detailed and very interesting!!
Date published: 2018-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love I read this for a book club I am in. The descriptions from this author are incredible. She takes you into the story and, honestly, I found each page so rich that I felt like I'd read an entire chapter after just a page or two. Great read.
Date published: 2018-02-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid Good Read I truly enjoyed this book, it was a page-turner. There is a creepy element which I thoroughly enjoyed, though understand it's not for everyone. If you pay attention to the clues it's possible to string together the twist ending. I took one star off because I found the writing style a touch flat, but one the whole it was well-written and an original story. Would recommend!
Date published: 2018-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! Great book, with a great twist. One I'll be rereading someday.
Date published: 2018-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved every word. One of the best books I've read in a long time. I was tempted to immediately start again the moment I finished it.
Date published: 2018-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Find! I came across this in the library and thought "Why not?" It was well worth it and I went and purchased a copy to read again and again. Inspiring, provoking, a page turner in all senses, it made me not want to put it down, to see if I had figured out what was going on. Absolutely love it and recommend it
Date published: 2017-11-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Highly recommend! I don’t usually read mysteries but this one I loved.
Date published: 2017-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So captivating and thrilling!! I started this book knowing nothing about it, and not expecting much, after 3 chapters I could not put this book down!! I've re-read it several times as I enjoy the style in which it is written, and of course the thrilling story itself! Easily in my top 5 reads ever!
Date published: 2017-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly Enjoyed This One! I was looking for a book to read on vacation, and I chose this one! Great storyline, I enjoyed the characters, and would highly recommend it!
Date published: 2017-07-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hard to put down! Once the narrator begins to speak with the author, Vida Winters, the story really sets off on a journey full of twists and turns. With each tale Winters presents to Lea, you find yourself more and more captivated by the story. It tests the concept of the unreliable narrator, all while forcing you to imagine what the woman's life must have been like were those instances really true. This book will leave you guessing and wanting more with every chapter! -- Disclosure: employee review.
Date published: 2017-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another book I forfeited sleep for... I loved this book. Great characters and a gripping story. I am not usually a fan of gothic-type books but if you like a good mystery there a lot of psychological twists, creepy ambiance, strange characters and lots of suspense.
Date published: 2017-06-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyed! I truly enjoyed this book. It was my cup of tea with a dark mystery. Would totally recommend.
Date published: 2017-03-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from One of my top 10 favorite books I picked up this book on a whim and it's become one of my favourites! I always recommend it to others, and I've read it over and over. You get completely enveloped into this book with how the characters and feel like you're on the same journey. I love it.
Date published: 2017-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my All Time Fav's I received this novel as a gift, it was a surprising story line. I enjoyed this novel and would read it again. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-03-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting premise This was an interesting premise, but not my favourite book. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love! So many twists and turns and just so amazing
Date published: 2017-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Magical I was as intrigued as Margaret into wanting to know what the Thirteenth Tale was. This story was phenomenal and I couldn't put it down when I started it. Now that I've finished the book, it's become one that I cannot part with. It remains on my shelf for a rainy day joy-read.
Date published: 2017-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Victorian "skeleton-in-the-closet" mystery The unexpected twists and turns in the plot, a mysterious Miss Winter, and beautifully written passages come together to make a unique novel of its kind. I thoroughly enjoyed this book - its fasinating story was a good spooky read to curl up with. #plumreview
Date published: 2016-12-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Terribly Done What a disappointing read! It tried too hard to seem Victorian while staying outside of the realm (so many references to Jane Eyre that weren't necessary even with how it ties in to the plot), the author put too many obscene things in just for shock value (still don't see the relevance to most of the subject matter), the backstory of the parents were uninteresting, the main character's annoying obsession with her twin that she never knew was horrible, and the way the plot was brought together at the end was so contrived. I didn't enjoy this pretentious novel at all. It tried so hard to be literary but failed both in terms of writing and the convoluted plot. It could have been done better - the key points that converged were there - but almost all the characters were so terribly unsympathetic and exaggerated, and the writing came off as condescending. Nothing was surprising, the story was barely interesting enough to keep me going, and already so much of it is unmemorable. If at least one of the things I had mentioned was done better perhaps it would have gotten three stars from me, but from what I was shown there was just not enough to make this book good. #plumreview
Date published: 2016-12-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Almost Eerie Not quite what I was expecting to read, but still enjoyable. While it was mysterious and held my attention, some of the characters were darker than I anticipated. That being said, I thought the main character was a little bland, but perhaps that was part of the contrast. I enjoyed the writing of the "story within a story" as it was easy to follow, even though it had so many layers. Very well done.
Date published: 2016-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating! I loved the twists and turns of this story, the characters grabbed me from the first chapter.
Date published: 2016-11-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sometimes we have to understand other people's life story before we can resolve our own. Interesting read!
Date published: 2015-07-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A little pretentious... The story was intriguing enough for me to make it to the end; however the writing was a little too flowery and overdramatic for my personal taste. I also didn't enjoy the dialogue. A few of the characters came off as simple-minded, or even severely disabled. I think that may have been the intent; however, without a proper explanation, I found it very distracting.
Date published: 2015-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mysterious and Beautiful! I loved this book! I wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, but it was one of the few books that I could hardly put down! Great plot and backstory, well written, easy read, mysterious and a great twist. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2015-03-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thirteen tale Great flow a good read
Date published: 2014-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well written Wonderful read, well worth the time.
Date published: 2014-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Thirteen Tale WOW!! How do you write a review on a tale.. a book you don't want to end? This was a book that has banished roughly 100 other books I have read into the abyss of garbage!! It surpassed every thought, word and feeling I imagined I could have from a "tale" Worth the money, the time and devotion. Will always be a book to remember and to recall.
Date published: 2014-08-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Thirteenth Tale Excellent. A good read and a very different story. I can highly recommend it
Date published: 2014-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Thirteenth Tale Great story...kept me guessing!!
Date published: 2014-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Thirteenth Tale I really enjoyed this book and could not put it down. It kept me guessing until the end. I would definitely recommend it.
Date published: 2014-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dark and fascinating Reeling. This was one of the best stories I've ever read. I loved every single part of it. Absolutely all of it.  I wish every book could be like this book. It had the perfect amount of mystery and suspense, I grew attached to to every character, and she drew together every single conclusion.  And it was so original! I've never read anything like it.  The story line was riddled with darkness but it was so intriguing!! 
Date published: 2013-12-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Thirteenth Tale I expected it to be better than it was because my friend really liked it. I thought the book would never end but kept reading till I finished it.
Date published: 2013-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Thirteenth Tale One of my favourite reads!
Date published: 2013-05-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Simply lovely Simply put: I. Loved. This. Book. Oh my goodness, it was like a dessert for the bookworm. Each word was like a decadent piece of truffle, each sentence expertly woven, every page a must-turn. I don’t think I ever tired of the plot or the characters. I am big fan of cover art, and so many novels I see don’t interest me looks-wise, which means I don’t pick them up. But this one captured me on the first glance. What bookworm doesn’t like seeing old books on a book cover? I initially loved the idea of a ghost story, a mystery and a tale untold — and I wasn’t disappointed. I have never read anything by Diane Setterfield before, but I think I’m definitely going to have to look into her other works. The characters were incredibly interesting. While I couldn’t really connect to any of them, that wasn’t really the point. The point was that I felt for them. I felt for the household at Angelfield, for Margaret Lea and her family, and for Vida Winter herself. The family secrets in both Vida’s family and Margaret’s are what kept the story moving along and became the ghosts themselves. No family is perfect, and this story exemplifies that fact. It was a great mystery and had me guessing till the very end. But I do have to admit that I got rather confused near the end. I had to reread an entire chapter just to make sure I fully understood it. By the last page, however, I was wanting more and I had figured it all out. I wanted to know how the characters turned out later on and I wanted to make sure they were all happy. It’s tough finding a book that engrosses you so completely within the first few pages (lord knows I haven’t had that experience in quite a while), so The Thirteenth Tale was like a breath of fresh air for me. A definite must-read for any person who loves a story within a story within a story. To view more of my book reviews, visit:
Date published: 2013-05-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worth the read The slowness of the book is balanced with the author's ability to spin the tale and to end all loose ends.
Date published: 2013-03-05

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?

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