The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (unabridged audiobook read by Bianca Amato and Jill Tanner; 15.75 hrs on 13 discs): Vida Winter, an author of Agatha Christie-level fame and popularity, is old and ailing and finally ready to tell the truth about her life after fifty years of telling each would-be biographer a different, obviously fabricated version of her childhood. She chooses Margaret Lea, a young woman with painful secrets of her own, to record the tale. Lea becomes entranced with the story, as did I. It is about twins, and ghosts, and madness, and love. The characters are at once repellent and oddly compelling. I would advise a strong stomach for parts, but by and large I absolutely loved this story. The ending was so satisfying I had a goofy grin on my face for quite a bit of the last couple chapters. My only confusion was that I couldn’t figure out what time period it was supposed to take place in. Lea uses pencil and paper to write, and relies on almanacs and handwritten letters to genealogists for her research. But cars and trains and telephones are commonplace items. Winter’s tale, which begins with the birth of her mother, spans nearly a century, but never once is there a single mention of either World War. No matter where you were in England at the time, surely the wars were something that impacted everyone. So that was a bit of a mystery, but quite a small one. I’ll have to keep an eye out for Setterfield’s next novel.

A note on the audio: Both readers were excellent. I listened to Amato Her Fearful Symmetry, which was also about twins and ghosts. Kind of an odd coincidence. (Evidently I also listened to Tanner read Atonement – I thought I recognized her voice!)

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