Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale Review

"A birth is not really a beginning. Our lives at the start are not really our own but only the continuation of someone else's story."

I've just finished The Thirteenth Tale and really enjoyed it.
It contained a lot of the elements I enjoy, it was a story about stories, a book about books, it was timeless and well written, engaging, suspenseful, gothic and a little creepy. It dealt with siblings and twins, familial bonds and dark family secrets. There were ghosts and skeletons, literally. References to classic literature, medical studies, knitting, gardening, fanciful imagination's. Pretty much hit all my buttons in one.

It is the story of Vida Winter and her desire to have her true life story recorded before she dies. Until now Ms Winters story has been a patchwork of lies and fictions that suited and amused her. For as many biographies on her life that exist so do as many stories.

"I've nothing against people who love truth. Apart from the fact that they make dull companions."

Vida Winter chooses Margaret Lea, a biographer of the dead for the task after reading a paper she wrote on a couple of brothers. Margaret lives above an antique book shop filled with stories of the long since deceased and this is where she feels at home in spirit as well as in body. She has never read any of Vida Winters modern books despite the fact she is lauded as one of the most prolific and well read authors in the UK. To familiarise herself with her works before she decides to accept the task of recording Ms Winters story she takes a rare book from her fathers collection called Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, the book hooks her in but she is disconcerted to discover the book only contains twelve tales. which is also what makes this edition so rare. The Thirteenth Tale was never included in the original so it was recalled and renamed, however to the public the Thirteenth Tale, much like Vida Winter herself still holds a strong fascination and curiosity.
Margaret agrees to write the biography and soon falls under the spell of the story, as do we the reader. Vida's story is a dark tale of mental illness, abandonment, siblings, twins, sisters, lust, ghosts and murder. The more Margaret is drawn into it the more her own dark secrets and tragedies come to the surface and both Margaret and Vidas stories contain threads and elements that weave them both together. One story sitting on top of another.

The writing is beautiful, the themes although dark are not graphic or abhorrent, much is alluded too but the picture it draws in the mind is very clear. The book is full of quote worthy quips and set in a timeless era where one is left wondering if you are reading classic literature set in modern day or modern literature about a time gone by.

"Politeness. Now there's a poor man's virtue if ever there was one. What's so admirable about inoffensiveness, I should like to know. After all, it's easily achieved. One needs no particular talent to be polite. On the contrary, being nice is what's left when you've failed at everything else. People with ambition don't give a damn what other people think about them."


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