The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale is a modern take on a Gothic novel–old houses, weird families, ghosts…

Vida Winter, the renowned and reclusive novelist, is dying. For decades she’s told stories about characters she created, and now she wants someone to tell hers. Margaret Lea, a little-known biographer and assistant shopkeeper, is asked to do the honors. Margaret agrees to do it, but not without reservations.

See, Vida’s never once been honest about her early years, not with anyone. The time before she was published is a mystery, because every time she’s interviewed, she changes her story–orphan, child of missionaries, grew up in India, grew up in Scotland, etc, etc. But by agreeing to tell Margaret three true, verifiable things–things she hasn’t shared before, but can still be proven–she gets Margaret’s reluctant acquiescence.

The story begins with a family. The Angelfields, of Angelfield House, are an odd bunch. Charlie Angelfield, the son and heir, is incredibly troubled and his sister Isabelle is in some ways even worse. In the fullness of time Isabelle gives birth to two children, twin girls named Adeline and Emmeline, and it is their story that matters.

This book is so good, you guys! It’s a little weird and very atmospheric–Vida’s house is quiet and remote; Margaret has her own personal ghost; the Angelfields have issues that make even me squirm a bit. It’s broody and haunting and if Ann Radcliffe was alive today she’d be clawing her own heart out in a fit of jealous rage.

If you like shadows, flames, trashy Gothic novels from days of yore, the idea of trashy Gothic novels from days of yore, mysteries, introspection, or sibling dynamics, pick up The Thirteenth Tale. You’ll be glad you did.

Favorite Line:

Once upon a time there was a fairy godmother, but the rest of the time there was none. This story is about one of those other times.

Don’t read if: you dislike baking, old houses, the Yorkshire moors, or topiary.