The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale

3 / 5

A gothic and engaging tale spoilt by some irritating flaws.

“All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind, and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won’t be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.”


This gothic tale revolves around the dark and untold story of a famous writer called Vida Winter, who now after years of repeatedly lying about her personal life, wants to tell her true story once before she dies. The person she offers the job of chronicling her story is Margaret Lea, who is the narrator of the book. She is a young woman working in the family antique bookshop who has written journals about twins, which is the reason for Vida’s choice of chronicler and the reason why Margaret feels so close to Vida’s story.

The veil behind Vida’s personal life is gradually lifted and she unveils the compelling and secretive story of the Angelfield family and the story involving Vida, Adeline, Emmeline, Isabella, Charlie, Hester, the Missus and John. The Angelfield story is an engaging and a cleverly woven tale, with many threads which Vida agonisingly reveals and Margaret desperately investigates. Despite the interesting revelations as the story progresses, there are far too many lulls and the story became far too drawn out for my liking. I lost count of the interspersions of Margaret drinking her “hot, sweet tea”, they were a bit repetitive and annoying especially when the Margaret was getting close to unravelling the true version of events.

My main criticism I have with The Thirteenth Tale is that the story never moved me; it was more of an intellectual stirring that it caused rather than one in my heart. The slow pace contributed to the lack of a moving story, the methodical and long-winded descriptions did not help create characters or a story where the reader feels that they are vesting their heart and soul in the story, this is more of story where you only investing your mind. I also found the supernatural and twin-link to be not very convincing, I found that Margaret’s twin story was undeveloped and it felt that the twin-link was a little forced. Throughout the novel I was never able to appreciate or find the twin-link credible.

The ending was also I found, a bit too contrived. The story within a story framework was a very good device and it was the perfect choice in telling Vida and Margaret’ stories. But by the end, the culmination of all the threads of the story were spun in such a engaging way that the end should have been equally interesting but it seemed far too contrived and I felt a bit cheated.

Setterfield is very adept at creating a lot of quoteworthy passages which are brilliantly construed and written. I will end this review by including two beautiful and fantastic passages.

“Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes–characters even–caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.” 

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”

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