rating: 3 of 5 stars
What a unique book. It mixes types like none I have read before. The structure is one where the author writes about a girl who is writing about a writer. Sittenfeld is telling the story of a girl (Margaret) who is telling her own story by writing it directly to the reader, but she is also commissioned to write down the story of Vida Winter, a renowned author who tells her story verbally. The two stories intermingle at times, as Margaret hunts down details of the living remains of Ms. Winter's story, visiting ruins of the Angelfield house and interviewing lost souls such as Aurelius. The Thirteenth Tale is about characters telling one another's stories, and if the characters in those told stories had told stories, The Thousand and One Nights would have been quickly called to mind!
More than its narrative structure, The Thirteenth Tale had a unique feel to it. Its English setting and the various details Setterfield used gave it an almost fairy-tale/cottage-like quality that suited its storytelling nature. What is more, it used the Sixth Sense effect, so that once a crucial element was revealed, it made me want to go back and check to make sure every detail in the novel fit my new understanding. It is always fun to see stories in a new light, particularly when the new light is so unexpected.
My biggest criticism is that the narrator herself often bordered on melodrama, with all of her pining about twinness. I understand that being a twin was part of the essence that drove the novel in the first place, but I never really felt that I got to know the narrator in a way that made me much empathize with her lack of appetite, sleeplessness, or basic neuroses. And the last chapter was dreadful. If I had been Setterfield editor, I would have insisted that it be cut.
And yet: this book would appeal to a wide range of audiences. I would recommend it to mystery lovers, Harry Potter fans, and anyone who enjoys books set in old England. I don't particularly fit any of these categories, though, but I found the book entertaining, so book lovers in general, I suppose, will probably like it, too.
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