Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ easy challenge, I am now about to embark on the:
Moderate challenge: write five blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention another woman author who writes in a similar vein.
I shall take as my first author in this pentangled quest Diane Setterfield. So far, this author has published one book, The Thirteenth Tale, first published in 2006, which I reviewed in February 2008.
THE THIRTEENTH TALE is a magnificent, beautifully written and involving story, a modern version of a Victorian novel. Vida Winter is the most respected and widely read living writer, now coming to the end of her life. Throughout her career, she’s been interviewed many times but has always given different and fantastical stories about her life, so that she’s preserved an aura of mystery.
Margaret Lea is a young, repressed woman who lives in a bare room above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. All her life she has loved reading, but has never attempted a contemporary novel. She’s written a few articles on her non-fiction research, one of them having been published in an academic journal. Out of the blue, Margaret receives a letter in terrible handwriting, which she deciphers as being an invitation from Vida Winter, who wants Margaret to write her biography. Curious as to how she has been selected for this honour, and unable to sleep because of her sadness about her life, Margaret begins to read an early book of stories by Vida, entitled “The Thirteenth Tale”. After a paragraph, she is hooked, quickly devours the rest of the author’s output, and accepts the commission.
“The Thirteenth Tale” in itself is a mystery, as there are only twelve tales in the book – haunting and original takes on old fairy stories. Margaret has been reading a rare first edition from her father’s special locked case, but all subsequent editions of the book were given a different title; the fate of the missing tale has remained an enduring puzzle. (continued here).
Even without having read the comprehensive Wikipedia entry about this novel (which I had not done at the time of writing my review but I have now), I likened the book to Charlotte Bronte‘s Jane Eyre. The Thirteenth Tale is, I think, a modern reworking of the gothic Victorian novel epitomised by the Bronte sisters, and Jane Eyre is probably the book that it most resembles. This is part of what Wikipedia has to say about the comparison:
Jane Eyre is the first title to creep into the book, and once having found its place, never left. Only when the girl in the mist comes to be, is the connection between Miss Winter’s story and that of Jane’s- the outsider in the family. Jane Eyre moves from the beginning as a book that is often discussed, to an important part of the story; the inner furniture of Margaret’s and Miss Winter’s minds. Most conversations between Vida Winter and Margaret centre-point Jane Eyre. Miss Winter’s example with the burning books focuses Jane Eyre as the “only hope” and the last one to burn. Aurelius is found with a torn page from Jane Eyre. The significance of the book in the novel is vital and is a leitmotif; often recurring. It is obvious that Diane Setterfield is paying homage to Jane Eyre and its sisterhood of novels.
The Thirteenth Tale was Diane Setterfield’s first novel and, to date, she has not published a second although there is an Amazon UK entry for “untitled Setterfield” so one might be on its way soonish. I almost did not read her book because of its massive publicity budget, the sort of thing I find off-putting. But I read several good reviews so I changed my mind, and I’m glad I did. Perhaps the best account I have found of the author’s story about the book is this interview at The Guardian (from 2006). To give you an idea of the hype, the standfirst reads: “Until this week, she was a former teacher who lived in Harrogate. Now she has become America’s bestselling writer. Oliver Burkeman meets debut novelist Diane Setterfield.”
The Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ challenge (SinC25) (At the blog of Barbara Fister, the originator).
All Barbara’s posts and round-ups of contributions to the SinC25 challenge.
All my contributions to this challenge.