The Thirteenth Tale – An uncanny and persuasive literary treat

I become miserable when I am nearing the end of a book I have loved so well. I try to stretch my reading of it, so that I have more time to spend on it. However, the last page has to be read sometime, and the book has to be put to rest sometime. The story however, or the story-within-a story becomes a part of you forever.

Margaret Lea is met by a surprise when a letter arrives in her name from the country’s most celebrated author Vida Winter, who seeks her out to recount her story. As a biographer, Margaret knows that other biographers would die to get an opportunity to write Miss Winter’s story, but then the fact that she has been chosen of all the people, comes as a huge surprise. Margaret has not read a single work by Miss Winter and she does not know anything about the author except that she is an acclaimed author and that her work has been translated into as many languages as possible. Why did then, Miss Winter choose just Margaret to write her story? Perhaps it has got something to do with Miss Winter’s Thirteenth tale of “Change and Desperation”.

Margaret assists her father in the antiquarian second-hand book shop and the only thing she may have in common with Miss Winter is her love for Victorian classics. Lured by deep curiosity, Margaret makes her way to the outskirts of Yorkshire where a lonely house stands amidst the moors. What Margaret discovers through her meeting with Vida Winter is a gossamer of stories woven with a delicateness of a cobweb. If not treated carefully, all would be lost. Thus, in recording Miss Winter’s narration, Margaret not only discovers a bizarre tale concerning a pair of twins but also, of a house drawing its final breath, and of people who arrive and never leave, even if they do. Through her connection to Vida Winter, Margaret finds the courage to see her own truth, meet it upfront and learn to let go.The Thirteenth Tale tells a tale of malevolent love defined by the need to possess.


The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield came to me with no fuss at all. It came as one of many books I usually order online. I had read a summary and was expecting a regular historical Gothic fiction. What met me, was a breathtaking surprise, something entirely different. Something uniquely individualistic which changed the way I look at stories, for always. As Setterfield states, everybody has a story to tell. However I feel that along with a story to tell, one must have a talent to tell the story. Otherwise, the essence is destroyed forever. Setterfield for one, has an incomparably beautiful talent of telling a story. A story which seems to have come to her rather than she having to come to it. For, such unique is her story telling that I have come to believe that the characters of The Thirteenth Tale, as genuine, real living persons who lived and who are still living their story, continuing from the point where the narrator left, and that we were only given a glimpse.


The use of exquisite language is one its major strengths which contributes immensely to the literary tone of the novel . With an affinity for Victorian romances and sensations, I found a similarity between Margaret, Miss Winter and myself. I could not contain my excitement when I came across my favourite books such as Jane Eyre, The Woman in White and Wuthering Heights.

There is a thing in common with these classics and The Thirteenth Tale and, that is, the air like element the protagonists possess, where they are floating aimlessly, everywhere, like air. Their vagrant souls are in search of a safe harbour, a place where they can finally feel at home. Like Jane Eyre, Anne Catherick and Laura Fairlie from The Woman in White, and Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights, the young Adeline and Margaret possess a hint of air like element, a sense of lacking direction in life and are overwhelmed with the melancholy of loneliness. Thus, I think that the female protagonists of The Thirteenth Tale share a similar sense of displacement with the heroines of the above mentioned Victorian classics. Readers who love Jane Eyre, The Woman in White, Wuthering Heights and other similar Victorian novels, will, I assure you simply fall in love with The Thirteenth Tale.

Some readers may argue that it is a bit stretched and that it becomes tedious as it goes. It may be so, for readers who are expecting a fast pace historical Gothic thriller. However, this is not a thriller, and there is a difference between a Gothic novel and a novel with a Gothic tone. This being the latter, sets the mood of the story in a Gothic fashion while narrating a melancholic tale of that terribly lonely, cold and lost child within us all, in search of the warmth of home and hearth.

Play List for The Thirteenth Tale

Thirteen – Big Star
The Quiz – Hello Saferide
Get Sick Soon – Saferide
On My Way Back Home – Band of Horses
Is There A Ghost – Band of Horses
Secret – The Pierces
These Photographs – Joshua Radin
Waiting on the World to Change – John Mayer
Back in the Saddle – Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
In Praise of the Vulnerable Man – Alanis Morissette



One Response to “The Thirteenth Tale – An uncanny and persuasive literary treat”

  • sulekha says:

    Yoshay,your book reviews are like another beautiful novel or extension of the ones being reviewed. I am tempted to rush out and buy the book right away and read it, so convincing and mesmerizing is your writing.Thanks for sharing,cheers.

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Yoshay Lama

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