Friday, February 13, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale the Audio Edition

Margaret Lea is right. "There is no time for anything but research, but I have managed to do one additional useful thing." (page 339) She is talking about her conversation with a school teacher. I am talking about a serendipitous event!

As soon as we selected Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale for our book club selection, I reserved it at our library. In my haste to make sure I had a copy, I didn't read the online record and inadvertently reserved an audio book. Now, thirteen disks later, I'm mostly glad I did. Listening to the book is harder and slower than reading, but the richness of the narrators' voices really added to my enjoyment. [It also meant I needed to use a Google Books preview to get the spellings correct.]

All in all, I found this a very enjoyable read. This is a book I could easily see myself reserving again, although this time in hardcover form. Even though I know the answers, I still have some questions. Maybe new clues would emerge that I missed before. Had I originally had a paper version, it would likely have been filled with highlighted passages, as there were so many wonderful nuggets, like this.
There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic. (page 10)

Vida Winter's story is complex, tightly woven, and filled with turns that are both distinct and dependent upon each other. I found her a compelling character ... she was the person who kept bringing me back to the book. Although I had expected that Emeline and Adeline were children of incest early on, it took me much longer to understand why, if she were one of the twins, that Vida Winter described herself in third person. During the time the twins were separated, Hester noted that she was making progress with Emeline. At that juncture, I made a note that maybe Vida Winter was Emeline, given that she had become a succussful author. Still, I was confused as to how she knew so much about the events at Dr. Maudsley's house.

There were times when I wanted to tell Margaret to stop talking. Although her story offers something of a parallel (being a twin, growing up not knowing who her mother is), for me it was tangential. It gave her a connection as Vida Winter's biographer, but nothing more. I guess she needed her own back story to fit into the book, but I could have done with less of it. Ironically, she was like her mother and even Hester: she looked at the world in a detached way. As a scientist. I will confess that there were a few times when she started going into great detail about a setting that I hit pushed ahead with a fast-forward button. I also wish that Vida would have skipped some of the gruesome details of Charlie and Isabelle's self-inflicted and mutually inflicted violence. One or two examples would have been enough.

One of the intriguing things to me are the personalities of the three sisters. Vida Winter is a child of rape, and Emeline and Adeline are the twin daughters of two masochistic, violent parents. In some ways, Emeline -- and particularly Adeline -- mirrored the relationship of their parents. Adeline clearly had Charlie's violent tendencies; Emeline was passive, but she could connect with people. Isabelle was manipulative, not passive. Vida Winter, the product of the most violent rage, was the "fairest of them all," so to speak.

Does anyone have a sense of the true time frame of the story? Given the Bronte-esque style, I kept envisioning characters in long petticoats and top hats. Yet, Margaret rode in cars and had a camera with film. She sent and received correspondence and photographs rather quickly.

This is a story that will stay with me. Not for the violent and sad moments, but for the strength of the story itself. These are characters who walked from the pages and left questions that can never be answered. As Margaret says at the beginning of the book ...

Reading is dangerous. (page 6)

5 comments:

Jill said...

Terry,
Excellent review! I wondered how this would be on audio book. I tend to read too fast and don't take enough time to really savor the language, which I'm forced to do when I listen to audio books.

You've made a very interesting observation about the personalities of the girls.

As for the time frame, I don't know why, but I imagined Vida's story to be set in the mid-nineteenth century and Margaret's story to be in the early twentieth, but I'm not sure why that was running through my mind.

Terry said...

Do you think it was Setterfield's style of writing that pushes us to that time frame? Could it be the setting (England in general)? There really isn't enough to say specifically, but we both concluded the same thing. In thinking about the picnic and the *pairing off* that could have happened in the 1920s or 1930s, so why do we think 1800s?

I guess I was expecting the *real* Vida to be the most vengeful ... especially since her story of being orphaned is recounted so vividly.

jillt said...

The picnic and pairing off COULD have happened in the 20s, but that would have pushed Margaret's interview to somewhere in the 2000's since Vida is in her 80s then. The fact that she relies a lot on the train to travel and snail mail to conduct research makes me believe it was set much earlier.

Also, medicine and medical theories didn't seem to be as advanced, as evidenced through Hester's failed experiment.

But the gothic setting of the moors also brought me back to the time Wuthering Heights. The Jane Eyre references and parallels also immediately brought my mind back to that time.

Terry said...

Ah, I never was good at math! You're right.

Lenika said...

Setterfield seems, at least to me, very influenced by Gothic themes in earlier books. I was telling Jill a few days ago that Margaret's obsession with her twin reminded me of Catherine Morland's (Northanger Abbey) obsession with mysteries that didn't exist.

I chuckled when the good doctor todl Margaret that reading romantic and dramatic books made her ill. The character in Northanger Abbey had the same issues. :)