Instant #1 New York Times bestseller
“Readers will feel the magnetic pull of this paean to words, books and the magical power of story.”—People
“Eerie and fascinating.”—USA TODAY
Sometimes, when you open the door to the past, what you confront is your destiny.
Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author's tale of gothic strangeness—featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.
About the Author
Diane Setterfield is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Thirteenth Tale, and a former academic, specializing in twentieth-century French literature, particularly the works of Andre Gide. She lives in Oxford, England.
Date of Birth:August 22, 1964
Place of Birth:Berkshire, England
Education:Theale Green School, Berkshire (1975-1982); B.A., University of Bristol, 1986); Ph.D. in French, 1993
Read an Excerpt
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.
How 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.
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?
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Setterfield
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide
The Thirteenth Tale
By Diane Setterfield
Margaret Lea works in her father's antiquarian bookshop where her fascination for the biographies of the long-dead has led her to write them herself. She gets a letter from one of the most famous authors of the day, the mysterious Vida Winter, whose popularity as a writer has been in no way diminished by her reclusiveness. Until now, Vida has toyed with journalists who interview her, creating outlandish life histories for herself all of them invention. Now she is old and ailing, and at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. Her letter to Margaret is a summons.
Somewhat anxiously, the equally reclusive Margaret travels to Yorkshire to meet her subject. Vida's strange, gothic tale features the Angelfield family; dark-hearted Charlie and his unbrotherly obsession with his sister, the fascinating, devious, and willful Isabelle, and Isabelle's daughters, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline. Margaret is captivated by the power of Vida's storytelling, but she doesn't entirely trust Vida's account. She goes to check up on the family, visiting their old home and piecing together their story in her own way. What she discovers on her journey to the truth is for Margaret a chilling and transforming experience.
Questions for Discussion
- Much of the novel takes place in two grand estates Angelfield and then Miss Winter's. How are the houses reflections of their inhabitants?
- As the story unfolds, we learn that Margaret and Miss Winter are both twins. What else do they have in common?
- Margaret and her mother are bound by a singular loss the death of Margaret's twin sister. How has each woman dealt with this loss, and how has it affected her life? If her parents had told her the truth about her twin, would Margaret still be haunted?
- Books play a major role in this novel. Margaret, for example, sells books for a living. Miss Winter writes them. Most of the important action of the story takes place in libraries. There are stories within stories, all inextricably intertwined. Discuss the various roles of books, stories, and writing in this novel.
- Miss Winter asks Margaret if she'd like to hear a ghost story in fact, there seem to be several ghost stories weaving their way through. In what ways is The Thirteenth Tale a classic, gothic novel?
- Miss Winter frequently changes points of view from third to first person, from "they" to "we" to "I," in telling Margaret her story. The first time she uses "I" is in the recounting of Isabelle's death and Charlie's disappearance. What did you make of this shifting when Margaret points it out on page 204?
- Compare and contrast Margaret, Miss Winter, and Aurelius the three "ghosts" of the novel who are also each haunted by their pasts.
- It is a classic writer's axiom that a symbol must appear at least three times in a story so that the reader knows that you meant it as a symbol. In The Thirteenth Tale, the novel Jane Eyre appears several times. Discuss the appearances and allusions to Jane Eyre and how this novel echoes that one.
- The story shifts significantly after the death of Mrs. Dunne and John Digence. Adeline steps forward as intelligent, well-spoken, and confident the "girl in the mists" emerges. Did you believe this miraculous transformation? If not, what did you suspect was really going on?
- Dr. Clifton tells Margaret that she is "suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination" when he learns that she is an avid reader of novels such as Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Sense and Sensibility. What do you think he means by drawing such a parallel? What other parallels exist between The Thirteenth Tale and classic 19th century literature?
- When did you first suspect Miss Winter's true identity? Whether you knew or not, looking back, what clues did she give to Margaret (and what clues did the author give to you)?
- Margaret tells Aurelius that her mother preferred telling "weightless" stories in place of heavy ones, and that sometimes it's better "not to know." Do you agree or disagree?
- The title of this novel is taken from the title of Miss Winter's first book, Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, a collection of twelve stories with a mysterious thirteenth left out at the last minute before publication. How is this symbolic of the novel? What is the thirteenth tale?
- When do you think The Thirteenth Tale takes place? The narrator gives some hints, but never tells the exact date. Which aspects of the book gave you a sense of time, and which seemed timeless? Did the question of time affect your experience with the novel?
Enhance Your Book Club Experience
- Ghost stories abound in The Thirteenth Tale, and in many American towns and cities as well. Take your book group on a haunted house tour. You can find a haunt near you at www.hauntedhouse.com.
- If you're the host, give everyone a gift of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (or rent the movie).
- Research the Yorkshire Moors and the small market town of Banbury, England, the general region of the fictional Angelfield village and Miss Winter's private estate. You can start with information and photos at www.yorkshirenet.co.uk and www.absoluteastronomy.com/reference/banbury.
- Discover hidden treasures by taking a group trip to an antiquarian bookshop like the one Margaret's father owns. You can find one near you by visiting http://www.fearlessbooks.com/Antiquarians.html.
- Turn your next meeting into a traditional English tea party. To sample some delicious recipes, visit http://www.joyofbaking.com/EnglishTeaParty.html.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read this book for our book club. It was captivating after the first 30 pages or so. The writing style is beautiful and it kept me wondering throughout the book. I usually can figure out the twists and mysteries as I read- but this was really different and fascinating to the end!
My book club loved it as well. It was really interesting discussing it and most of us went home and read it again!
Some books get a 'WOW', some books get a 'spectacular', and some books just defy any term to describe the powerful emotions one feels after finishing the last word, on the last page of a book. THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield is just one of those 'once every so often' powerhouse reads!!! Combine the atmosphere and timeless style of a classic Bronte's' JANE EYRE, or any Charles Dickens's novel. Mix in the new creativity of the more recent bestsellers, Carlos Ruiz Zafon's THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, Gregory Maguire's WICKED, and Audrey Niffenegger's THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE. Finally add the wonderment of a tale of Cinderella's child, or any other tale that has yet to be told. AND----You may just rise to the level of Setterfield's THE THIRTEENTH TALE!! This is a magical tale, unlike any other, about a young girl, Margaret Lea, who is living and working in an antiquarian books store with her loving father and emotionally absent mother. She is called upon to fulfill the request of writing the 'true' biography of the singularly fanciful , morbidly mysterious, and ever illusive popular tale writer, Vita Winter. Both women seemed to have tragically lost a twin, and maintain a flair for the dramatic in their thoughts and actions. As Margaret visits Miss Winter to listen to her life story and pursue her mission for Miss Winter, a most exciting and unique tale emerges. Similar to many fairy tales, yet eerie in its emerging truths, Setterfield creates a story of her own that will keep readers and book clubs breathless for more and more!! This book is such an all encompassing read because it engages the senses, the intellect, and the emotions. Reading the last word on the last page is both joyful and heartbreaking. A wonderfully, complete story has emerged but there is a real taste for needing more and more for the reader. The mysterious lives and incidents in these two women's stories ebbed ,and grew, and flowered in my mind with an all consuming passion until I felt that I knew them as completely as I know myself. As Diane Setterfield says through Vita Winters--'Everyone has a story'--and as promised, Setterfield tells a stupendous one in her book, THE THIRTEENTH TALE. How can this possible be a first time story by this author? Readers will finish this book and be impatiently awaiting a new one from her immediately!!!
What a fantastic book written with the atmosphere of a different age. If you are a fan of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, etc. (and who isn't) you simply MUST read this engaging novel. It pulled me completely in and I felt just like Margaret--never wanting to leave the world and companionship of my newfound friends at Angelfield. More please, Ms. Setterfield!
Once I started reading this book I found that I kept looking for time to read it. It was a little slow out of the gate but once I got thru the first couple of chapters it really took off. Good for younger readers also.
I loved this book and immediately bought a copy for my sister. The use of language is marvelous. The plot is original and the characters are facinating. I hope the author , Diane Setterfield, will write more books.
The start was not a quick read. But less than an eighth of the way into it, it grasped me! The characters were seamlessly intertwined. Just when you think you know, the story becomes more mysterious until the very end. In part tragic, otherwise a great read.
Another book I happened to see on the B&N website that seemed to come highly recommended. I am always interested in a good ghost story, so I decided to give it a shot and was definitely pleased! The main character is well introduced and easy enough to relate to which makes it all the more interesting to uncover Ms. Winter's secrets with her. There are so many unexpected twists and turns in her tale that, even as someone who is rarely caught off guard, I was surprised at some of the directions the story takes. The morals of most of the characters involved are definitely questionable, but that seems to only make it all the more interesting to read!
I second all the five star reviews!!! UNFORGETTABLE!! BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN! A JOY TO READ! Another book I recently finished that left me wanting more was EXPLOSION IN PARIS by LINDA MASEMORE PIRRUNG....LOVED IT!!!! Check out the reviews! That's what hooked ME!!
"The Thirteenth Tale" is a booklover¿s delight of gothic fiction, murder mystery and intrigue rolled into one compulsively addictive novel. Overtones of a modern-day "Jane Eyre" and "The Woman in White" haunt Diane Setterfield¿s work of compelling suspense, and like these hallowed predecessors (which the main characters mention as two of their favorite books, by the way), will have readers flying through the pages, mentally trying to solve the multi-level puzzles before the author so deftly and satisfyingly does for them. I only wish more books were this well written and this thought-provoking.
This book is one of the best books I've ever read. Its suspenseful and surprising and it challenges your mind to understand its frightful details. It's probably not the best for children though, due to its adult topics and there are a couple of gory scenes within. Although quite disturbing this book is a great read and I love the authors style.
I read the first several pages and found myself suffocated by the author's extravagant application of words. Her philosophy appears to be: why use a few well chosen words to convey an idea when twenty words can be crammed into the sentence instead? I imagined the author as an acquaintance endeavoring to tell a story aloud, and myself having to stifle the urge to interrupt and ask her to get to the point. I skipped ahead to the middle of the book and discovered the same wordy trend. I do love a big fat book, but only if the content justifies the length of the manuscript as a whole, as well as that of its descriptions and dialogue. In reading, as in most things, less can be more. Too much chattiness, and my interest wanes. But that is my opinion and not a universal perception. If you enjoy verbosity or simply have more patience, this could be a good read for you.
Our book club read this as our thirteenth and final title of the year where every single person thoroughly enjoyed it (16 members) and agreed it was the perfect mysterious tale to conclude with. The characters are captivating and the family secrets are divulged with perfect timing. The rhythm of the story is soothing, but the content is provocative. It's one of those stories you are driven to continue reading way past bedtime! The book club discussion was interesting because the plot lends itself to a variety of interpretations developed through the imagination of each reader. It's staying on my bookshelf to enjoy again in the future!
This was one of the best books I've read in a long time. After I finished reading it the first time I wanted to read it again to see what I missed the first time.
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.....
I was reluctant to purchase this book, given all the hype. I did though and was thouroughly enjoying the read. I thought it was so well written. I even recommended it to others. Then when I reached the end I was SO dissapointed. I really think she could have done so much more with the characters and come up with a much better ending.
I thought this book was wonderful. It was one of the those books that you could not wait to pick up and start reading again. I'm not one for giving away plots in reviews so I'll just say that if you love a good story that has a little bit of everything (mystery, romance, etc.) and you're looking for something new to read, give this book a go.
Every once in a while, one has the luck to stumble upon a truly gifted author. An author who can do it all: craft a spellbinding story that refuses to loosen its grip on the reader; conjure up a space-time continuum and transport the reader there; give birth to vivid, but nuanced characters that almost leap off the page to inhabit one’s minds’s eye; and wield the written work with as much artistry and flair as a master painter with his colors. In my humble opinion, I stumbled on just such an author when I picked up Diane Setterfield’s first novel. Truly, I don’t know what I loved most about this book. First, the story was expertly molded. With the use of flashbacks, Ms. Winter spun her story to young biographer Margaret Lea, but the present time also had its twists and turns as Margaret conducted her own research into her subject’s life. The slipping to and fro between past and present was seamless and built excitement. Just when Ms. Winter’s flashback story of her strange and somewhat disturbing childhood would ensnare me and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next, the author would switch to present time, whetting my appetite, building my curiosity. But one didn’t mind the change in the time continuum because the present time story was just as compelling, just as spellbinding. I had very little clue where I was being led at any given point, but wherever it was I wanted to follow, and I never guessed the truth of Vida Winter’s life until the author laid it out. It was such a joy to be totally flabbergasted. Secondly, her characters were multifaceted, believable, and vivid. I could envision them, wonder about them, care about them. I wanted to puzzle them out. For instance, as I read, I didn’t know whether to like Ms. Winter or not. She never really lets people into her life, even the reader. She’s imperious and controlling, and one senses she has always gotten her way. She’s uninviting and not the least bit gracious or comforting in nature, but one also senses vulnerability and that perhaps the superiority is all an act born of necessity… perhaps, she has built a wall around herself and her emotions to defend against anyone getting to close and learning her secrets. Her young biographer, Margaret Lea, is rather like her, though much more approachable. Margaret has also closed herself off for reasons that are not apparent at first, but Margaret is not so off-putting. One immediately feels empathy for her. Finally, simply put, Diane Setterfield has a way with words. Her prose is some of the finest in modern writing that I’ve seen, casting beautiful images in unique, creative ways. I was fascinated by the unusual ways she chose to describe the most mundane of things. For instance, here is a passage regarding memory lapses: At the moment she first learned the facts of Charlie’s departure it had brushed her consciousness momentarily, but had not found a place to settle there. The passages, corridors and stairwells in her mind, that connected her thoughts but also held them apart, had been undermined. Picking up one end of a trail of thought, she followed it through holes in the walls, slipped into tunnels that opened up beneath her feet, came to vague semi-puzzled halts: wasn’t there something….? Hadn’t she been…? In short, I have no problem giving this book 5 stars. I wish I had more stars to give. Ms. Setterfield is officially on my list of authors to follow, and I only pray she doesn’t disappoint after this first breakout novel.
This is an incredible book. The story keeps you intrigued and it has a great ending, which is very satisfying. I've read many books that were really good, right up to the end when the author just didn't seem to know how to finish. This is not one of them. I've read this book several times and enjoy it on new levels every time. I highly recommend it.
Love this book. I thought it kept your interest but wrapped up nicely.
Excellent! From start to finish I never found a lull in the reading of this story, it kept my interest throughout. The storytelling was fluid, and charater development was what this story was all about--they grew on you. With all the twist and turns this story takes, and story telling within a story the author has done an excellent job of weaving it together. A delight to read!
When reading the numerous ratings for this book I was quite shocked at the ones that gave it an outstanding. I wonder if I read the same book? One reviewer wrote, 'I thought that narrators descriptions of her pain in losing a twin-sister reflected author's keen perceptions and research on the grief, loss, and bereavement process of siblings.' I could not disagree more. This aspect of the book was lacking in emotion and was painfully transparent. It barely even skimmed the surface with regards to loss and grief. While this reviewer was very eloquent and obviously has a large vocabulary used to impress us with her knowledge of writing it feels very contrived. However, I would have to agree with her when she says that she suggests reading this book without any expectations. Overall, I felt it to be a very poorly written novel.
I found this book to be quite enjoyable! It was a recommendation by my mother, who told me that the book starts off slow, but picks up pretty quickly. To be honest, I never thought it was slow for a minute! Some have mentioned the book as being "too wordy" or overly descriptive. I found that it was just right. I found that it is geared towards a female audience, but I believe anyone would enjoy this book! Good twists, nice plots, just enough dark subject matter.
This book was outstanding! It kept you wanting more after each chapter. I only wish Diane Setterfield had written another book!
I picked this book because the plot seemed interesting however, the delivery was a little odd. I did not see some of the plot twists coming but at the same time a few of them seemed very far-fetched. The protaganist did not seem relatable and she had a irritating quality about her. I guess I just expected a more dynamic climax. Overall, I am glad I read it but wouldn't take a look at it for a second read. It took me a while to figure out exactly what time period this took place.
This was an unusual story, even a little bizarre. It was impossible for me to relate to one of the characters, so I really had no interest in their fates. The story moves along at a fairly slow and methodical pace. It was just ok.