Twins, always together, always two. If it was normal in their world to be two, what would other people, who came not in twos but ones, seem like to them? We must seem like halves, the Missus mused. And she remembered a word, a strange word it had seemed at the time, that meant people who had lost parts of themselves. Amputees. That's what we are to them. Amputees.
Diane Setterfield's first novel became a phenomenon and international bestseller. It clearly speaks to a distinct readership: us avid readers and bookworms. :)
The protagonist, Margaret, describes her love of books and the hours she spends reading with a passion that is both familiar and instantly endearing. Plus she has a book lover's dream job: working in her father's bookstore, selling and organising all kinds of books from modern novels to extremely rare and ancient manuscripts. In addition, Margaret is a part-time writer and biographer. This brings her in contact with Vida Winter, a highly popular but extremely secretive novelist. Vida has a request: would Margaret come to her home to write her biography? To reveal the 'true' story behind the mysterious writer, whose real name even is a secret.
As Margaret starts to write Vida's life story, she gets sucked into a world of twins, abandoned children, mistaken identities and strange inhabitants in the Gothic setting of the old Angelfield house. Her own investigations bring her across random characters that are somehow connected with the rest of the story, but nobody quite knows how. At the centre of it all stand the twins and the mysteries and bonds that make twinhood so fascinating and uncanny. And of course the stories: the mythologies and fantasies we all make up for ourselves in order to make sense of our lives, our past and our dreams.
This is one of those books that will hook you and make you sad to see it end. The explanations to the mystery of the twins at the end of the novel are, in my opinion, somewhat unbelievable, but anything more realistic might have made the ending too predictable. Definitely recommended summer reading!
The author's story itself is a sort of rags-to-riches tale, echoing that of J. K. Rowling. A French tutor in Harrogate, England, Setterfield apparently always planned to write a novel, but her scribbled ideas never left the back of her drawer. After some time, she took a creative writing class and finally began to write more frequently. Writing The Thirteenth Tale was a five-year project, but it certainly paid off.
Diane Setterfield: The Thirteenth Tale. Orion Books. 2007. 454 pages.
BookBrowse: The Thirteenth Tale
London Evening Standard: "British author becomes overnight millionaire as book hits top of US charts"
Wikipedia: The Thirteenth Tale
Wikipedia: Diane Setterfield