‘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.