The story opens with Margaret Lea receiving a letter from prominent English author Vida Winter who is requesting that the amateur biographer write her story. Miss Winter is old and dying and wants to tell her tale before it is too late. Upon receiving the notice Margaret does some research and finds that Miss Winter is an avid story teller, especially when it comes to her own history, telling a half dozen versions of it to as many reporters in the last few years. When meeting Miss Winter face to face she calls her on this and is given the reply that she is a storyteller its what she does. It is not until Miss Winter promises to give Margaret three verifiable facts that she agrees to write the story. However, Miss Winter extracts a promise of her own, Margaret can ask no questions and must wait for the story to unravel….there will be no skipping to end of this book she must wait patiently for each turn of the page.
What follows is an oddly gripping tale of madness, twins, strict governesses and ghosts. The audio version of the book uses two British women to bring both Margaret Lea and Vida Winter to life in such vivid detail that even now when I pick up the text I read the words and hear their voices. Each perfect for the role they took on. I was immediately drawn to Margaret Lea when hearing about how she must always find a secure place to sit before reading anything as ‘reading could be dangerous.’ To quote:
I never read without making sure I am in a secure position. I have been like this ever since the age of seven when, sitting on a high wall and reading The Water Babies, I was so seduced by the descriptions of underwater life that I unconsciously relaxed my muscles. Instead of being field buoyant by the water that so vividly surrounded me in my mind, I plummeted to the ground and knocked myself out. I can still feel the scar under my fringe now. Reading can be dangerous.~Margaret Lea, The Thirteenth Tale
While I never brought harm upon myself from reading I can recognize the sentiment because I have gotten so lost in a story that I’ve missed my stop on the T….often traveling to the end of the line (which was a good half dozen of more stops from my own) and not realize it until someone tapped me on the shoulder to say that the train had arrived at its destination. So Margaret’s story of falling off the wall immediately endeared her to me.
I loved this story….despite the fact that there wasn’t a whole ton of plot to it. It was a biography, it was a mystery, it was the bonding of two women from different generations and it was a story. This book had many wonderful analogies to it…beautifully rendered scenes and descriptions that sucked you in and just made me want to listen for hours on end. It was a story that I wanted to continue long after it ended…and yet at the same time it ended at just the right moment and in just the right way. I am not sure how I would feel about this book if I had only the print version to go on, but the audio made me fall in love. The narrators brought this story to life for me and held onto me tightly until the end….so much so that I can’t imagine the story in any other form. I highly recommend the audio. I am also looking forward to Setterfield’s next book, which I hope is not too long in the coming.