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The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

13th Tale I can’t remember what made me read Diane Setterfield‘s ‘The Thirteenth Tale,’ originally. I, uh… It’s kind of more… mainstream? …than what I normally read. That sounds terrible, and truthfully, the book is far from mainstream. I’m just usually off reading something odd, elves riding motorcycles or people with flowers pouring out of their mouths or gay pirates, and this book is so normal, comparatively. Not that I’m against that, I like it, it’s just I don’t usually stumble upon anything like that unless someone hands it to me.

But I know I definitely picked this myself. I remember picking it up at home, after I brought it from the library, and just… slipping right into it. Liking it immediately, and becoming completely immersed in it just as quickly.

So. The book is told from two perspectives. The first is Margaret, an amateur biographer who works in a bookstore. She receives a letter from a famous author, Vida Winter. Throughout her life, Vida has told the media twelve different stories about her past and the truth about her life and where she came from. But now Vida is dying, and she wants to give Margaret the thirteenth, and only true, tale about her. The second perspective of the book is Vida’s, as she recounts her past.

It’s a rather simple premise. But Margaret has secrets and things she struggles with, and Vida Winter is just one secret after the next, each so fascinating and unexpected… And even though she’s telling the truth, she leaves some things out, so sometimes her past seems like fiction, and sometimes it seems crazy, and sometimes it’s a ghost story, and sometimes Margaret catches things that don’t add up, and she starts to go searching for even more answers on her own.

The plot is meandering and branches in what seems like dozens of different directions, but at the same time, it’s very neat, and it comes together so beautifully. So it’s well‐written in that way, for sure. I think what I really loved the most about the book, though, is how gorgeous and lush the writing itself is, the settings so beautiful, the characters so interesting, that you can’t help but become involved in them and where they are and what’s happening in their lives, whether it’s the present or the future or the past.

And the settings are really spectacular, ranging from beautiful English gardens to kind of gothic‐feeling estates, to the dusty and beautiful gloom of the bookstore Margaret’s family owns. And mix these beautiful descriptions in with the truly three‐dimensional, enthralling characters, and a plot that’s a little bit mystery and a little bit romance and a little bit about family and a little bit, too, about just loving reading and writing, and you’ve got nearly everything you could possibly want in a great book.   -SEL

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