The Thirteenth Tale


"Last night I dreamt of Manderley again. . ."

That's what Diane Setterfield's new, much-hyped book reminded me of--vaguely. But then, that book (Rebecca) was born of the same passion that fuels this book, Jane Eyre. Although there is little enough romance in Setterfield's book, the atmosphere is thick with Jane. A governess, a ghost, feral twins, a burning house, a story untold, a story everyone wants to know about.

Indeed, even the name of one of the Major characters, Vida Winter, is meant to conjure the great old days of the suspenseful Gothic, and by that, I do not mean women in flimsy gown fleeing huge castles, but rather the brooding and dark repressed family histories--Poe Gothic, not Victoria Holt (although there's nothing wrong with that either.) Vida Winter is the author of a great many well-admired books, the first of which "Thirteen Tales of . . ." had only a single print run because a mere twelve of those tales made it into the book. The first print run became a fabulously rare collector's edition because they were recalled and mostly destroyed. Afterwards it became Twelve Tales.

Our heroine is the daughter of an antiquarian and rare-book dealer who is consulted by Ms. Winter to write the author's biography. She goes out to the present residence on the moor and hears a tale of twins, topiary, ghosts,murder, and insanity--all the ingredients for a good winter night's read.

While the book is a trifle of a story, a delightful bon-bon, a mere confection--it is a confection superbly prepared by someone who loves books and loves story and knows intimately how to tell a ripping good yarn. While I was trying to decide whether or not to be disappointed by the book, the writing weighed in and tipped the scales, heavily in the book's favor.

Why disappointment? Really no good reason except that it was not the book I would have written. The author made some story choices I would not have made in the tale veered off in a direction unexpected. But then, when looked at from a distance, each of her choices were the right ones, and each of mine, while making a book more to my taste would have produced the usual mishmash of rubbish that has defamed the Gothic name since Jane Austen took on Ann Radcliffe in Northanger Abbey.

But the final decision--if you love good fiction--get it, read it. You won't be sorry. Highly recommended.

Bookmark and Share



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 11, 2006 7:30 AM.

A Huge Archive--Mary E Wilkins Freeman was the previous entry in this blog.

The Catholic Home is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll