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The Thirteenth Tale    by Diane Setterfield order for
Thirteenth Tale
by Diane Setterfield
Order:  USA  Can
Atria, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Margaret Lea, a young biographer, is asked to record the final story of a popular but ailing writer - recluse Vida Winter. All the world is waiting for the thirteenth tale, mysteriously missing from a collection of stories written long ago. And as the tale unfolds, it is the more unsettling because there are several puzzles to solve along the way.

Author Diane Setterfield has woven the lives of these two strong but lonely women into a fascinating account. Despite being the product of a loving family, Margaret carries a secret that causes her to suffer, and because she recognizes a similarity between her suffering and Vida's, she is drawn to the demanding and difficult author. As Vida reveals her own story, Margaret must tread carefully. Vida is very ill and fragile, yet still quite capable of spinning yet another outlandish version of her history. As Margaret continues her investigation into what really happened in Vida's early years, she meets many interesting characters, all of whom are quite willing to help her and who anxiously inquire about the thirteenth tale. At the end, Margaret comes not only to understand Vida's story, but also her own.

Lovers of gothic fiction will feel right at home with this work. There are real and imagined ghosts, several remote settings and mysterious and violent incidents. Add to this a number of strange, almost otherworldly characters, along with just enough regular people, also very beautifully characterized, and you can believe that this novel is a treat. If it didn't seem like the author was trying too hard to tie up loose ends in the last pages of the book, it would really be quite perfect. Read it and enjoy!

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