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My promise to you is, if it's here, it's good.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale, the first novel by Diane Setterfield, reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list after only one week in publication in 2006. No wonder. This novel isn't just a great mystery, but the writing is breathtaking. It's been a long time since I have read a book whose sentences alone have been such a pleasure to read. I feel my own plod along in their own straightforward, unimaginative way to the end of the line, while hers surprise me at every turn with unexpected images and metaphors.

The novel centers around a world-famous, much-loved author and gifted storyteller: Vida Winter, an elderly woman fast approaching death, who has entertained herself by telling many versions of her life to the literary press, none of them true. She summons a reclusive young woman biographer, Margaret Lea, to her house by promising to tell her the truth, a pledge to which Margaret aims to hold her.

As they settle into the house and winter weather settles in around them, Vida Winter's story gradually unfolds: of intense love, of sorrow, of managing the unmanageable, of hard choices. It is a story of madness and redemption, of loneliness and love, of losing and finding. One of the recurring elements of this novel is twins; their closeness, their love; their need for each other, yet also the uniqueness of each. As Ms. Winter tells her tale, Margaret makes inquiries to verify the details and locate the missing segments of the puzzle. As she pieces together the remarkable tale of the writer, she also struggles with her story, her own missing twin and her own loneliness.

Of course, love triumphs in the end: the lost are found; the family is reunited; secrets that need to be kept are kept; those that need to be told are revealed; and Margaret emerges from the secluded world of books into a more authentic life of friendship and perhaps even love.

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