The Hard Facts:
Title: The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Washington Square Press (October 9, 2007)
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Margaret Lea, a young woman who has grown up in her father's antique book store among the tomes of centuries past, is contacted by the world-famous novelist, Vida Winter to write her biography. Margaret hesitantly follows the invitation to Vida's countryside home, drawn by the promise to be given the truth about her life, of which is next to nothing known to the public, and potentially learn about the thirteenth tale of her debut novel, which had been missing. Once arrived, Margaret is drawn in by the family story of Miss Winter, who reveals her birth name, Adeline March: the twins Adeline and Emmeline are born out of the incestuous relationship between the siblings Isabelle and Charlie. After Isabelle's hospitalization at a mental insitution and her untimely death, Charlie retreats to his study, barely to be seen by anyone. The twins are being raised by the aging house keeper and display peculiar behavior early on. Upon the recommendation of he village doctor, a governess is hired when the girls were teenagers, to try and mold them into functioning people by rules and structure. While Emmeline, who seems to be mentally retarded complies, Adeline, who displays feral behavior, rebels. As a last attempt to civilize the girls, the governess suggests an experiment of separating the twins to the doctor, who takes Adeline in. Both girls are devastated at their separation, but while Emmeline slowly adapts, Adeline has fallen into absolute lethargy. Eventually, the experiment fails and the twins are reunited as the governess suddenly disappears. The twins are now alone again; both the house keeper and the gardener, who have taken care of them since birth die, and Emmeline becomes pregnant by the gardener's assistant. Shortly after Emmeline gives birth to a little boy, their house, Anglefield, burns down. Adeline leaves the boy at the doorstep of a neighbor and disappears, taking care of Emmeline, who is badly burned. As the story unrevels, Vida's strength wanes. On her deathbed she confides in Margaret that there had been a secret third girl, the ghost of Anglefield house, the daughter of Charlie with a peasant girl, who was abandoned by her mother at the garden gate as a little child but found and nurtured back to health by the housekeeper and the gardener to live in the shadows unnoticed. Due to her striking similarity to Adeline, she assumes her role after their guardians' deaths to take care of the affairs. At the night of the fire, the girl without a name saves Emmeline's baby as Adeline tries to burn the boy in the fireplace out of jealousy. She manages to save Emmeline, who ran into the flames to rescue her son, just to realize that she has indeed saved Adeline with her face badly burned. Shortly after the end of the story, Vida Winter dies; Margaret decides to not publish the story but to leave it for the family of Emmeline's son, who she had met during her research. She does, however, find the long-lost thirteenth tale in a letter from Vida, which is the story of Charlie and her mother, of her childhood and how she was abandoned, written like a Cindarella story gone wrong.
Well, every bookwork out there will definitely enjoy the description of the books, the bookstore, the libraries. It took me back to the hours I spent in so many libraries around the world. It reminded me of that lovely old-book store in downtown Manhattan (Kansas, that is) where Richard and I would spend whole afternoons treasure hunting. The story itself, even though it is laced with several side stories, is great to read. The backdrop is winter in England, so it would be best read during a late fall or winter storm with a hot cup of tea. However, for my taste, the author focuses too much on the "twin phenomenon", describing how Margarets dead twin (a side story) follows her constantly to look back at her from reflecting surfaces. It definitely creates a sometimes creepy mood. Overall, it was definitely an enjoyable read for a quiet winter weekend.