Audiobook Review: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

What better read for Friday 13th… Recommended to me by a few people, I’m so pleased that I’ve finally got round to reading The Thirteenth Tale. It is a haunting story that contains many elements I love: Identical twins (in general, I am fascinated by them) hidden family secrets, an ambiguous narrator and a story that slowly and enticingly unravels itself. At its heart, The Thirteenth Tale is a classic ‘character has an incurable illness so decides to spill their deepest secrets’ story and I am here for it.

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Vida Winter is a renowned novelist (think Agatha Christie levels) and, after years of refusing to reveal her own life story, she has now decided to tell all to fledgling biographer, Margaret Lea. This book is therefore told from Margaret’s point of view and as she transcribes Ms. Winter’s life story, we find out all about that too. This is where the twins come in. In her pre-publishing life, Vida Winter was known as Adeline March and she had a twin sister, Emmeline. The sisters grew up on a large family estate, Angelfield, but had no stable parenting and ran wild. Then a fire burned their family home to the ground and everything Adeline knew was gone.

This is a short summary of the plot so as not to reveal any spoilers, but trust me, the story is strong. Other elements I enjoyed were that Margaret works in her parents bookshop and is a devoted bibliophile, so there are many references and allusions to classics, particularly Jane Eyre, that make reading this a delight. I liked the ambiguous timeframe – it never quite reveals the decade it is set in – which adds to the mysterious tone. Also, with a nod to the reader, the title refers to a short story collection Ms. Winter publishes, titled The Thirteenth Tale, however, it only contains twelve stories and Vida Winter fans around the world are left wondering where the thirteenth story is. Spoiler, dear reader: it is this very book.

This was one of my longer audiobook listens and I have to admit, at times my mind did wander. Although the prose is lyrical and drew me in, in some places it felt a little slow, but I think that was due to my choice to listen to, rather than read it. I’m writing this review a few weeks after I finished listening and it’s been popping into my thoughts ever since, it leaves things unanswered but in a truly enticing – not annoying – way that only adds to its enigmatic feel. I love books like this, ones that take their time to embed in your conscience but when they do, you realise what a great read they really were. Wonderfully written, suspenseful, with genuine moments of mouth-open wonder and heart-breaking tragedy, all rounded off with an intriguing plot I didn’t see coming. I highly recommend giving The Thirteenth Tale a read.

/ Published by Orion 2007

/ Audiobook narrated by Jenny Agutter

/ Running time: 14 hours 13 mins 

/ Rating: 4/5

5 thoughts

  1. I’ve added this to my reading list – I loved her most recent novel Once Upon A River so am keen to read more by her. I do find some novels don’t lend themselves well to listening as an audio version – if they are too introspective I tend to lose attention

    Liked by 1 person

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