SinC25: Diane Setterfield, #1 post of “moderate” challenge

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.

14 thoughts on “SinC25: Diane Setterfield, #1 post of “moderate” challenge

  1. I do remember this one being ultra-hyped but it never made it to my reading list, you have tempted me though and it is available in audio format…always looking for good books for my ears,

    • If you check my full review, Bernadette, you’ll see that I found the ending disappointing. (Odd combination of predictable/cheat). Yet the book is extremely well-written, and I did enjoy it so I would not hesitate to recommend it. That having been said, I recently lent it to a friend who is a twin and reads books about twins, and she has lost interest in it half way through. My own love of books was a definite point of contact for me with this novel.

  2. Maxine – I remember the hype about this one, too. Not that that in and of itself is the main reason I didn’t read it but I do recall thinking I’d wait. I might take a look at it, as there seems more to it than I had thought. Even if the ending isn’t what you’d hoped for, it sounds like there’s some very interesting characterisation there. Hmmm….

  3. I think I’ll skip this book only because my TBR list has combusted.
    I want to say that I appreciate how well this website is organized, so that I can look up the 2011 reviews, best books this year, the Norwegian crime fiction recommended list and so on, making it easier and much more efficient for a reader to quickly move through them and take notes.

    • Why thank you, Kathy, I am so pleased that it’s easy to find your way around! In the book review archive I have categorised everything by country, genre and so on so you can click on the category that interests you (from the Book review archive main page or any page in there) and see all the relevant reviews.

  4. The hype put me off reading it too, but then I found it as a Book Crossing book in my local coffee shop and had to have a look at it. I thought the beginning was the best part – a character named Margaret who loved books! But as I read on I became less enchanted and yes the ending is disappointing and too predictable.

    • Good spot on the character name, Margaret! The only time I came across Maxine in a book was Joe Pickett’s dog in C J Box’s novels 😉
      In a way this book is like The Lovely Bones – riveting, haunting and original start but kind of fell to pieces half way through from lack of ideas, introducing new and less interesting plot elements, etc.

  5. I can’t even see the title of “The Lovely Bones,” without getting hives; I must find a book told by living characters who speak from mortal mouths from mortal, living bodies. and who do not carry out pediphilia and child murder and arise from the dead to discuss it!

    • Quite, Kathy, though I did think the beginning part of TLB very moving and upsetting, but got annoyed with it later as it turned out to be a device rather than going anywhere meaningful with it. Hence I felt somewhat manipulated.

  6. Your wisdom in deciding not to see the movie of TLB is quite correct. That will save you much aggravation and upset at seeing both horrendous brutality against children, which no one should see, including parents, and then the plot device which overrides the movie. And then the parents’ helplessness and worse, the moralizing against them for their anger at the perpetrator. All in all: Bad all around.

    • Thanks, Kathy. In the author’s defence, she did herself have a terrible, similar ordeal which she wrote about in the book “Lucky”. Her publisher apparently suggested she publish “The Lovely Bones” first, or else Sebold would forever be known for the events she endured and described in Lucky. I haven’t read Lucky and as you mention feel no urge to see the film of TLB, partly for the reasons you say and partly because Peter Jackson is good at only one thing from what I can see, that is, directing LOTR. (far too slow and ponderous for King Kong anyway! Jessica Lange in her version was more enjoyable).

  7. Your post sent me to read about Sebold’s life and her book, Lucky. I’m glad she wrote what she needed to write in that book. Perhaps it helped her to deal with the trauma. I can understand her writing a second book to move away from the first book’s focus, but why did it have to be this one, about horrors inflicted on children. parents’ helplessness and the ineffectiveness of the state to find, catch and punish the perpetrator — not to mention the plot device. And then allow a movie to be made which is worse.
    I do hope the author writes more and is published — but that it’s a big healthier, and that the main characters are living.

  8. I haven’t read The Thirteenth Tale – it didn’t sound like my cup of tea, and evidently isn’t! But I know a lot of people who enjoyed it.

    I did read Lucky – though not The Lovely Bones. The memoir seemed quite a good effort at being honest and thoughtful about a horrible event. The idea of a writer working out the same problem, once as a memoir and once as a novel, is kind of intriguing. Hmmm.

    Thanks for taking the challenge!

  9. Pingback: SinC25: Progress so far and preparing for the ascent | Petrona

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