Wednesday, May 23, 2007

We Loved The Thirteenth Tale

Our book club met last week to discuss The Thirteenth Tale, a first novel by Diane Setterfield. This was a very strange and fascinating story set in England about family scandals, secrets and lies which haunt the major and minor characters. The story interestingly is divided into four sections: Beginnings, Middles, Endings, and Beginnings. The writing is excellent. The images are vivid. The ghosts seem real.

The theme has to do with truth. There is a quote from one of the major characters, Vida Winter: “My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth itself....What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.” The story is not very exciting in the first few pages. In the third paragraph, the protagonist, Margaret Lea, makes a big deal about a letter she receives before actually opening it. Right away you get the image of a protagonist who lives a very dull, unexciting life.

The letter is from Vida and she wants Margaret to write the true story of her (Vida's) life. Margaret is skeptical because she normally does not write biographies of living people plus Vida has a history of creating multiple versions of her biography. In fact there are 19 versions of Vida's life. Vida is old and sick plus she has a connection with Margaret. They both had twin sisters. Margaret predictably accepts the job and a dark gripping tale enfolds that includes incest, masochism, and child neglect and abandonment in a strange English family.

There are several references to the novel Jane Eyre. Just as in the classic Jane Eyre story, this story has a governess, fire, and disfigurement. It has characters that are hidden away, romance, and madness.

Okay, go read the book!

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