Author Diane Setterfield
The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself — all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter’s story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.
GEMS: Setterfield’s character Miss Winter refers to herself as a subplot in her own story. I think this is accomplished both thematically and through clever story telling. Miss Winter is a writer who twists fairy tales making them more bizarre or gruesome than the original. In a similar parallel, Thirteenth Tale follows a like thematic format with hints of various well known fairy tales woven with familiar classics such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights which evoke a relation between scenic imagery and the psychology of the characters. Although not directly referred to, I also thought the story mirrored another great classic, ‘Great Expectations,’ and found this interesting. However, I do not think the reader has to be acquainted with these classics to enjoy the story, but it is a bonus.
FLAWS: There is so much going on in this novel, with subplots, thematic references and characters lives that I think it loses some of its strength. The author intends for the reader to be keep in the dark, but at times I felt wrongfully mislead in deceptive directions and got lost or found myself asking ‘so what?’ Also, there is a lot of retelling that occurs, which is especially annoying in the introduction of Hester’s diary. Towards the end, more attention is given to Shadow the cat than to Charlie who we later find out is a lead character in creating this horrid tale of circumstance. The ending quickens, which is a relief from the lull in the middle, but I got the feeling the author did not want or know how to end with the natural conclusion. Instead, we are given a few more chapters of after thought. We are told this is done because readers often wonder what happened in the not so happily ever after. However, it’s too neatly wrapped up and I think discredits all the effort the author originally made and the journey we went on in the first place. It felt more like a summary than an ending.