Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

This is DEFINITELY fiction for adults. I would not recommend it for teens as it includes rape, incest, child neglect, and questionable psychological research.

Now that I have that out of the way...Margaret, working in an antiquarian bookshop, receives a letter from a famous author asking her to undertake a biography. Not thinking herself as a professional writer, and not really interested in modern literature, she has reservations about accepting. After reading some of the author's works, which her father has on hand and which he read himself, she decides that one with such a gift for storytelling should at least have the chance to convince her to do the job.

After a brief interview with the author, in which Margaret nearly walks out when she suspects the author only means to toy with the truth as she has done in the past, Margaret stays as a guest in the author's house. Vida Winter, a woman in her seventies, is struggling with several medical issues, any of which could kill her at any time. Some ghost from her past seems to push her to this pseudo confession to an amateur essayist with a ghost of her own to deal with. Margaret checks up on Vida's account of her early life as much as she can to verify that the person Vida describes as herself is actually her. In the course of her investigation, Margaret finds plenty of surprises and finally confronts her own ghost.

It's not strictly a ghost story, or a mystery, and despite several references, it is not Jane Eyre. It's strangely captivating and had me up two consecutive nights to finish it. Even though it has a "happy ending", the foulness experienced by the author in her childhood makes the ending less a redemption and more of an escape from horror. If you are faint of heart or stomach, stay away. On the other hand, if you like the horror genre in general, or other sick and twisted fare, this is probably tame stuff. Not very uplifting and not the kind of stuff I want to be reading.

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