Friday, February 13, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale Initial Reactions

I finished The Thirteenth Tale a week ago, and the characters and stories from the book keep coming back to me, which I believe makes for a great book. I liked The Thirteenth Tale. I thought it got off to a bit of a slow start, and up until Margaret first interviewed Vida Winter, I wasn't sure whether or not I was going to like it.

Looking back, I realize why. I didn't care for Margaret and her story. To me, even though she was the narrator of the story, the main characters and the central story was that of Vida Winter and the twins, Adeline and Emeline. It was Margaret's retelling of her interviews with Vida that drew me in and made me keep turning the page. Why didn't I like Margaret? She certainly had her own ghosts and had been deeply affected by the death of her twin sister and a lifetime with a mother who was physically there but void of affection. However, call me insensitive, but I just wanted to shake her at times and tell her to get over it and move on with her life. Granted, by the end of the book, she is able to do just that, but something just didn't allow me to connect with her or really care about her. Did anyone else feel this way?

Vida Winter, on the other hand, was a different story. From her first encounter with Margaret, I liked her and wanted to know more about this mysterious woman's life. I immediately wanted to know: Why did she always make up stories about her past during interviews? What is she hiding? Why is she now finally telling her story? Is she telling the truth?

I admit that I was surprised to learn who she really was and didn't even suspect it, but once Margaret figured out the truth, all of the clues that were weaved throughout the story made it evident. Before her true identity was revealed, I found it particularly odd that Adeline would just suddenly start being normal one day, especially since I suspected who the twins' true father was from the very beginning. And things just didn't add up. Who killed John-the-dig? Who hit the doctor's wife on the head? Who was the boy Hester kept seeing and John kept denying having ever seen? All of it came together after Margaret read Hester's diary, and I was glad to have been surprised by the revelation. I definitely thought this was a plus because there have been a number of instances lately when I've figured out the plot and the mystery near the beginning of some books I've read, and the experiences have been a bit anti-climatic and disappointing.

The only remaining unresolved question for me is: which twin escaped the fire? I would love to believe it was Emmeline, but I just don't know.

I think Diane Setterfield is a great storyteller and beautiful writer. It's not often that a character or story line stays with me and has me waking up at night trying to guess the true identity of a character, but this one did. I understand why she felt it was important for the book to be about Margaret's healing just as much as it was about Vida Winter's desire to tell the truth, but the main character and the one I personally cared more about was Vida Winter. I wish I could have connected more with her, but she was difficult for me to like.


Terry said...

I hope it is Emeline, too. Vida talks about her connection to Emeline as a sister. On the audio, the tone of her disdain for Adeline comes through (or maybe I wanted to hear that). I didn't draw out any compassion for Adeline ... and it was Adeline who was closest to those petrol cans.

N.Vasillis said...

I agree with you on Margaret. She's pretty dull and uninteresting. I think Setterfield made her that way, so we don't get too caught up in her story.But she's almost the perfect reader, she understands how reading takes you to another place, how good books are supposed to be. You're supposed to forget your surroundings while reading.

I never suspected who Vida was or her story while reading. Rereading this book just makes it better. Setterfield is an amazing writer and it's a surprise that this is her debut novel. Even while rereading this book I was talking to myself (again), trying to figure out who the characters was, trying to answer the questions I had. . .

I wish the Thirteen Tales of Desperation and Change were real. I would love to read them! I'm glad you liked the book, Jill!