The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale‘The Thirteenth Tale’ by Diane Setterfield tells the story of Vida Winter, a successful author who commissions Margaret Lea, the reclusive daughter of a bookshop owner, to write her biography.  Having previously avoided revealing any true details about her past to other interviewers, Vida is now seriously ill and wants to tell the real story of her childhood at Angelfield when she was known as Adeline March before she dies.

‘The Thirteenth Tale’ is a gothic tale which features many references to classic Victorian novels such as ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘The Woman in White’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’.  Any book lover will love the opening chapters describing Margaret’s life working in her father’s antique bookshop and her compulsive passion for reading.  However, after a really excellent beginning, I felt that the rest of the book didn’t quite manage to sustain the same amount of tension.  Nevertheless, the story itself was interesting enough to hold my attention and I was keen to find out what happened at the end.  I also particularly liked the deliberate timelessness of the story – it is very difficult to pinpoint exactly when it is set and this is not something that I have often come across before.

I read ‘The Thirteenth Tale’ shortly before watching the recent BBC adaptation starring Olivia Colman as Margaret and Vanessa Redgrave as Vida.  Although it is hard to cut down almost any medium-length novel to 90 minutes of screen time, the original story of ‘The Thirteenth Tale’ was rather long-winded at times and a more concise version on screen worked well.  A few aspects of the story were inevitably changed or left out all together but I would say the TV adaptation was as faithful as it needed to be and enjoyable for both those who have read the book and also those who haven’t.

Overall, ‘The Thirteenth Tale’ is an atmospheric novel with clever twists.  Although the middle was a bit too long, I would still recommend the book and the film which are both enjoyable versions of the story.

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

  1. I haven’t read the book but I was a little disappointed with the TV adaptation. I think it is always strange to watch something when you’ve read it and have strong ideas about characters…

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  2. I enjoyed reading the book very much, even if there were certain episodes that could have been shortened slightly. I have the film saved on the iplayer so will be watching it at some point this week. Looking forward to it!

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  3. My expectations were very high and so in the end I was disappointed. Like you, I enjoyed the atmosphere, but the story took way too long to get to the point.

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  4. I didn’t watch the show *because* I liked the book – liked, but not loved, as I managed to get a crucial twist very early on…… 😦

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  5. A Fresh Tomorrow

    The book was fantastic and I hope we get the adaptation here in the States. The writing really sucked me in, but I agree about it dragging in spots.

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  6. I quite liked the book because of the gothic setting of the childhood story. It is long, I agree, but it is still interesting throughout, unlike some long gothic novels like The Historian which gets really dull.

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  7. I too have reviewed this book. It is one of my favorites. I recently received Bellman and Black, Setterfield’s newest novel. I look forward to starting it soon.

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  8. I really loved this book when I read it a few years ago (it still sits on my bookshelf) but I haven’t seen the TV adaption. I love books with references to other books in them which is probably why it was a winner for me.

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  9. This is one of my favorite contemporary novels, though it’s been years since I read it. I didn’t know about the film adaption! I’ll have to look it up

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  10. I read it some years ago and I remember enjoying it and overall, I credit the book for introducing me to The Woman in White which has become one of my favourite readings.

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  11. I loved the book when I read it a few years ago and when I saw it was coming on the BBC I got all excited but I have been disappointed. I agree with you, some things where left out (and it is normal as it is shortened) but the atmosphere or the tv drama I thought was quite flat overall and I didn’t really like the performance or the woman who was playing Margaret. I thought on the contrary that Vida was well interpreted.

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  12. I totally agree with you. I didn’t find it fantastic. I felt she was trying too hard. I read this a couple of years ago with my book club. Nobody was over the moon about it.

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  13. I saw this book in the bookstore once and thought of it as interesting. Then I got distracted 😉 From your review, it sounds like I will give it a try soon 🙂

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  14. I’m in! I love a novel like this during the grey days and long nights of Winter. Just the ticket, thanks!

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  15. I didn’t know that the Thirteenth Tale had been adapted for TV. How did i miss that? I’m going to have to see if it is still available on the iPlayer.

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  16. I enjoyed the book but agree with you that the middle part dragged and must admit I had to think a bit at the end. Still far superior than the TV version though. I totally agree that the bits about the bookshop are lovely!

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  17. I remember reading this and being surprised, it wasn’t what I thought and I have mixed feelings about it. I enjoyed it but ultimately couldn’t give it a great rating, the middle bit just made me think: good.

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  18. I enjoyed the book and didn’t know there was a TV adaptation, something I will have to keep an eye out for.

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  19. Pingback: Little Egypt by Lesley Glaister | A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

  20. I loved this book – I’ve also just read her second novel, ‘Bellman & Black’, which was really good!

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  21. It’s been several years since I read this book, but you’ve reflected my memory of it very closely. I did think it was well written, but it seemed a little stuffy, too.

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