Review by Jenessa Gayheart, author of “The Story of Eidolon”
Webmasters note – Jenessa, as mentioned above, is the author of the three-book set, “The Story of Eidolon” (links below and reviewed across my site). We’ve been having pleasant conversations in emailland and I popped her the question of doing a reivew (and maybe more) for me. So here it is – something I know nothing about (how is that different, you ask?”
he Thirteenth Tale was recommended to me by my mother. She said, “Jenny, you’ll like this, it’s a mystery about an author. Like you.” Whether she simply thought I’m also an author, or that I’m an author with a mystery, I’m not sure. I certainly didn’t have a mystery like Vida Winters’ in this book.
As many books worth reading do, The Thirteenth Tale brings you in like hesitant baby-steps into a cool river. The set-up doesn’t grip me and make me wonder enough to want to read more, except that it’s so mundane that I know the writer is placing a canvas before me on which she will paint the intrigue and description meant to grip me. Then, like a river, I get in deep enough to be swept away.
Ms. Setterfield writes a “sense of a moment” well, the kind of description you would give about how you felt when you found out a family secret. She describes the buildings and rooms and people well enough, so that the physical aspect is halfway left to the reader but so we know for sure what sort of air everyone and every place keeps: one character has an air of content mothering for anyone, one has an air of innocent glee for simple things, the book store is darkly serene with maybe a musty aroma of knowledge, and even a cat in the book seems like a daemon with a purpose rather than just a casual feline. Since that’s how I remember people most in my own life – for the energy they present rather than their appearance – I followed easily.
Until the twist. There’s a twist, and I had to fumble through it a couple times before realizing what had happened. I was even disappointed a little because I was distracted from the story for trying to figure out what she was talking about. Akin to tripping during a therapeutic jog and having to reorient yourself, this twist has to do with adding an element to your way of thinking of the story rather than shifting perspective on an element. Well, both, really.
Once I kept reading and had that “OH! That’s what happened!” moment, I was impressed as well as upset. I was not upset at the turn in the story so much as in the way it came about. I felt a sense that this twist was sort of a last-minute creation, as though Ms. Setterfield wrote half of the story and then said, “so… how will I explain this?…” and put in the only idea she could come up with at the time. I’m sure that’s not what happened, because there were little clues in the first half that make sense after reading the whole thing. I fully enjoyed “The Sixth Sense,” so major twists aren’t my turn-off, I suppose I simply didn’t catch this one right. I do have kids who interrupt me while I do anything, and a husband who pops in and asks “Hon, have you seen my…?” at any moment, so maybe if I’d read this in times that I wouldn’t be interrupted, I’d have perceived this change in a more satisfactory state of focus.
In all, my mother was right. – About my being an author who likes secrets of other authors, even fictional ones. I see that this book has become a movie, and I am curious to see how it translates. The old ruined manor, the mysterious man on the grounds, the main character’s own secrets, they generate the story like a Mississippi paddle wheel. Ms. Winters is quite the character, and I almost feel as though I’ve already seen the movie as I read the book. The other little, comfortable twists in the story keep it going easily, and I did find myself looking forward to what I hoped would be a quiet moment to find out what happens next.
I recommend this story, before the movie of course, but as a story in general as either manifestation it would be worth experiencing. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is what I will refer to as an “Elm Tree” recommendation (as opposed to a little “sapling” recommendation or a huge “Redwood” one. Stars are not as reachable as trees, and don’t suggest growth or depth).
If I do see the movie, and am moved to do so, I will write a comparison review of the movie to the book. A big “Thank You” to Mom for this one.