“‘Tell me the truth.’ It is a simple request, but one that shakes the reclusive and enigmatic, Vida Winter, to her very core. For has she not spent the past six decades writing fictional lives that have not only brought her fame and fortune but kept her violent and tragic past a secret?”
The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield.
When reclusive biographer, Margaret Lea, is asked to write the life story of best selling author, Vida Winter, she hesitates. Not only is Vida Winter still alive and therefore not the type of writer she usually writes about, she is also known to evade the truth of her past.
Nevertheless, she travels north, escaping the empty feeling left after discovering that she was one part of a twin, lost when she was born. Here she finds that Vida Winter has more in common with Margaret than she ever could have realised. And so begins her journey of self discovery which evolves alongside the search for Vida’s true story.
Much of the story is set in the large Angelfield estate, home of siblings Charlie and Isabelle, who always have something of a strange relationship, and Isabelle’s twin daughters, the ‘feral’ Adeline and Emmeline. Charlie and Isabelle are completely obsessed with one another and when Isabelle is sent away to a home for the insane and subsequently reported dead, uncle (or was he?) Charlie disappears, leaving the twins to wander the house, being vaguely looked after by the dotty housekeeper and the gardener.
Of course, lawyers and doctors get involved, worried the two girls are just as strange as their mother and uncle, employing a rather harsh nanny who begins conducting psychological experiments on the children, separating them. Of course she doesn’t last either and they largely raise themselves, taking comfort in each other, their bond…the twin bond, like a piece of string holding them together.
We aren’t really sure who Vida is for much of the story, but we think she is the psychotic Adeline. It is a really dark story, with the building suspense adding to the gothic feeling. There were so many elements that built upon the depth of the book. The question of identity when you are one of two (twins, I mean). The idea of who we are if we don’t know where we come from. I particularly loved the “writers” element, that is, the budding biographer hiding out in a bookstore who writes the story of the most successful writer in the UK. It asks what makes a writer, and whether the stories they write are who they are.
I do love a story about a writer. What can beat a story about a writer whose family owns a bookstore who is writing about a writer?
For the most part it was one of those books that can immerse you so deeply in a story, you rarely lift your head to face reality. There were a few occasions when I felt the sub-plot took over, but it is definitely one of those rare books that is literary, and yet feels quite fast paced.
Finally, I read this along with others in my online book club and I am reading it for the Eclectic Reader Challenge hosted by Book’d Out. I had trouble knowing what to read for a “gothic read”. I could really only think of Rebecca (already read) and was grateful to be introduced to a book that I would not normally have picked up but really enjoyed. This was the general consensus amongst the others in my book group too. If that isn’t a good recommendation, then what is!
Have you read any “gothic” novels that you can recommend? What do you love about them? I love hearing from you!