The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale
written by Diane Setterfield          
published by Atria Books

Why did I pick this book: This book has been on my to-read someday list. My book group picked this book for our February read…so, I read it!

Did I enjoy this book: Not at first. I thought it was too wordy. What could have been written in three words took fifteen. What could have been said with one simile/metaphor/analogy to six. It was too much. I was actually skimming paragraphs and skipping over parts that were just too much detail and description. 

With that being said, once I got into the story – hearing Ms. Winter’s life story – I could not put it down. I just had to keep reading and find out how this tale would end. It was disastrous when I was about forty Nook pages from the end and my Nook needed charged. I couldn’t believe it. All I wanted to do was finish this book but I could not stay tied to an outlet and feed my boys and get ready for a meeting and do all of the other things that needed to be done. Finally, I got to finish this book later in the night and I was glad when it was over. It was complete…it had – as Vida Winter said – a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

It had some twists and some unexpected turns as well. The story kept me interested. I have to wonder how this author came up with this story. Wow! Some of it is a bit twisted, some sad, some funny but all-in-all, it was a great tale. (I just wish it wasn’t so wordy.) 

Would I recommend it: I would if you like mysteries and if you are a reader who can see past the wordiness — or at least skip through it.

Will I read it again: I doubt it. The first third of the book was quite wordy and took a while to get through before getting to the heart of the story…before getting to the point it got really interesting.

About the book – MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS: Margaret Lea is the daughter of a book shop owner and antique books dealer. She grew up in the shop learning her alphabet by organizing the books on the shelves. She learned to read in the shop. She learned language in the shop. She began writing in the shop. She wrote a rather obscure piece on siblings that was published in a collection of work by other authors. This piece was found by renowned author, Vida Winter. 

Vida Winter is at the end of her life and wants to tell her true story. Not the hundreds of fantastical stories that she has told journalists through the years about her life. She wants to tell the truth – even if it is tragic and heart-wrenching and hard to tell. She chose Margaret Lea based on that one piece about siblings because she figured that Margaret had her own secrets, her own story. Who would be better to tell her story than someone who may be in a similar boat? Someone who has her own secrets?

Ms. Winter reaches out to Margaret and Margaret accepts the charge of writing Ms. Winter’s biography as told by Ms. Winter. Vida Winter calls it a ghost story, a love story. She says that her story is a mere subplot to the entire story. A subplot indeed…but a necessary subplot for most involved. 

Along the telling of this tale, we get to visit the Angelfield Estate. We meet Aurelius Love.  We hear the story of the Angelfield twins – Emmeline and Adeline – as well as their mother, Isabelle, and their strange uncle, Charlie. We learn how Hester, the Missus, and John-the-dig all have their place in this tale, sometimes a tragic place. We are saddened by the destroyed garden, by the fire that destroys the estate, by the needless early deaths of those who were loved. 

Through all of this, Margaret Lea finds the end to her story. She finds the answers to what she had been missing and looking for since her birth. 

If you have read it, let me know what you think!!!


  1. I read this book. I agree with you, the beginning was a little hard to get in to but things picked up. I liked how the author “wrapped everything up” at the end…except one thing I’m still pondering. Who survived the fire that night?

  2. I agree, Jennifer. It was great how everything was wrapped up…except for that one detail – who survived??? I have my opinion on that — SPOILER ALERT — I think it was Adeline.