This review is going to get nasty. Just warning you ahead of time. I bought Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale years ago when it was THE BOOK of 2006, and haven’t read it yet. I decided it was time to evaluate it and see if it would remain on my shelf or move on down life’s pathway. I went with an audiobook on my travels to and from a conference, which was not the best choice. This book spent a long time being very dull and then went into full-on ridiculous territory.
Margaret Lea is the world’s most milquetoast heroine. She is of indeterminate age (but I’m guessing early-to-mid 30s?), and works in her parents’ antique bookstore. She is obsessed with a secret of her own—her twin sister who died at birth. I’m really not kidding. She receives a letter from The World’s Most Acclaimed Author, Vida Winter, requesting a meeting, and Winter wants Lea to write her biography. The novel is framed around Vida Winter’s history, which is long and slow and filled with All The Secrets.
The writing is promising, and I like the book-about-books premise, but it is ultimately bogged down by a desperate desire to be loved and acclaimed. Margaret is the dullest protagonist in the world. As in, she makes Bella Swan look positively sparkling and Anastasia Steele interesting. At least Bella gets to have sparkly vampire unicorn sex, and Ana discovers her orgasm, but what does Margaret get? A dead twin sister obsession. Seriously, she is boring and cliché, down to her preference for 19th-century British novels over every.other.genre of writing. The allusions to Jane Eyre are maddeningly obvious and irritating. And in the end, a plot point that relies on identical twins for resolution is in serious trouble. I’m just saying.