Last month I blogged about Words for Worms’ online book club, The Fellowship of the Worms. Her first book choice was The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, and I even gave away a copy to encourage participation.
I’ve avoided writing about the book and answering the club questions because, well, I didn’t like the book all that much. I figured I’d better bite the blogging bullet and explain myself.
Fair warning: There be spoilers ahead. The book club questions deal with the entirety of the book, so if you haven’t finished it and don’t want your enjoyment compromised, stop reading now.
Alright, The Thirteenth Tale follows a youngish bookstore clerk and sometime biographer as she writes the life story of a famous UK author. The clerk, Margaret, is quiet and reclusive. The famous writer, Vida, is known for her outlandish lies when giving interviews.
Margaret discovered a deep family secret when she was 10 years old. She snooped through her parents’ hidden papers and found two birth certificates and one death certificate. Turns out Margaret was a twin and her twin sister died as a young infant. This previously unknown fact becomes a turning point in Margaret’s life. Now she’s sad and empty because she’s missing a big piece of herself. But she never, ever spoke to her parents about what she’d found. I thought that was ridiculous.
Vida’s purported life story also involves a twin sister, so Margaret feels a bit of kinship with and envy of Vida. The story Vida tells is twisted and gothic. I kept wishing everyone involved would get themselves some medication and therapy, because they were all kinds of messed up.
Vida’s life story is really just about the first 16 or so years of her life before she became Vida Winter. It’s a period of her life that she had kept well hidden (and with damn good reason).
Nature vs. Nurture Part 2… Was anybody else curious as to just HOW the twins could have become feral? I know the Missus was old and John the Dig was rather distant, but do you think the fact that the twins grew as they did was simply a result of gross neglect or do you think their parentage may have messed around with the gene pool a bit?
I think the incestuous parentage of the twins played a small role in their personalities, and the way they lived played a larger role. The fact that they were from a (relatively) wealthy family allowed their crazy to run completely unchecked. The villagers didn’t interfere and no one seemed to think much about them until the doctor and his wife insisted. By that point the girls were adolescents. I think their gross neglect by absolutely everyone played the largest role.
In the middle of the book, Vida begins shifting her pronouns around while telling her story and referring to herself in the first person. How did you interpret this as you were reading? Did you assign it much significance?
The pronoun change totally made my radar ping, but I had no idea what it meant. At that point, though, I figured we might finally be getting the truth of the matter from Vida rather than just another story.
When Margaret falls ill after running about on the moors in the rain, Dr. Clifton comes to her aid with medicine, and diagnoses her with “an ailment that afflicts ladies with romantic imagination.” Did you find this condescending, or did it ring true for you given Margaret’s obsession with the Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Sense and Sensibility, etc.?
I completely agreed with Dr. Clifton’s diagnosis and was grateful someone finally set her straight. All her boo-hooing and poor me with the dead twin so I’ll never be complete was irritating. She seemed fine before she discovered the death certificate and I thought she liked wallowing in her loss and misery precisely because she’d read so many books of a certain type.
Did you see that ending coming?!?!?! Did you believe that Adeline could have turned into a functional 13 year old girl out of the blue or did you suspect something fishy? Did you catch any of the early clues? Did your head feel all explodey?
For a little while I thought maybe Adeline was coming out of the fog. There were a couple of descriptions of the girl in the mist (or something like that) which made me wonder if she was trying to function in reality because she enjoyed being intellectually challenged by Hester. Then I thought Setterfield was going to pull triplets out of her hat and that pissed me off. The actual solution was better than triplets, but not much. I know the rape was mentioned earlier in the book, but I felt like it was more evidence that the family at Angelfield lived without any regard for other people. I never guessed there was a child from that rape.
So, Bookworms, yay or nay on The Thirteenth Tale? Did you like it?
Nay. The first 350 pages aggravated me. Every single primary character and the majority of secondary ones needed long-term psychological care. Margaret’s whining about her twin was incessant and Vida’s story about the deplorable conditions at the house was unbelievable.
Yay. The final 50 pages almost made up for all that. The characters were transformed and grew in ways I hadn’t foreseen.
The Thirteenth Tale wasn’t a favorite of mine and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, unless you really enjoyed Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. It was far too gothic for my taste, although it certainly surprised me and that’s cool.
Did you read The Thirteenth Tale? What’d you think?
- The Thirteenth Tale: A Fellowship of the Worms Extravaganza (wordsforworms.com)
- The Fellowship of the Worms: The Thirteenth Tale (cheapthrillsbookblog.wordpress.com)