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The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - Book Review

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The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale - Courtesy Atria

The Bottom Line

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is a rich story about secrets, ghosts, winter, books and family. The Thirteenth Tale is a book lover's book, with much of the action taking place in libraries and book stores, and the line between fact and fiction constantly blurred. It is hard to believe this is Setterfield's debut novel, for she makes the words come to life with such skill that some passages even gave me chills. With a mug of cocoa and The Thirteenth Tale, contentment isn't far away.


  • The writing is poetic.
  • The characters are unique.
  • The story is interesting, imaginative, exciting.


  • You will want to drink lots of cocoa while reading (this is only a con for the weight conscious).


  • Margaret Lea works in her father's book store and is haunted by a loss in her past.
  • One night Margaret is summoned to the home of the most famous author in England's house to record her autobiography.
  • Vida Winter, the author, tells a layered tale, with stories within stories, keeping Margaret (and readers) curious.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - Book Review

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is reminiscent of classic British novels, like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. It has tragedy, romance, moors, and dark, stormy nights. In a way, The Thirteenth Tale is a homage to these and all other great works of literature. The power of books and stories is foremost in the novel, and as the main character gets lost in one story, you'll find yourself lost with her in the story within a story (as well as the story surrounding the character's story).

This is not a realistic book. It isn't meant to be. The aura of fairytale lends power and mystery to the writing. While place is utterly important to the book, time is not. I did not try to figure out when the novel was supposed to take place, but it could just as easily have been now as a hundred years ago.

Perhaps all this talk about place, time and story seems roundabout to you. Perhaps you want a synopsis of plot and a straightforward review that tells you what to expect so that you can decide whether to read this book. For those of you who want that from this review...here's what to expect: A good story written by a very good writer about a good story told by a very good writer. Not clear enough? Pick up the book. Setterfield can tell it much better than I can.

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