Thursday, March 29, 2012

Our lives at the start are not really our own but only the continuation of someone else's story

Alright Thirteenth Tale, you win. I liked you. I don't know why it means you win. but that does seem accurate. Because I started this with a lot of wtf and eye rolls. But as Miss Winter says, I should probably start at the beginning

I can't remember exactly why I picked this book up. I knew it was a fairly popular book, although I can't actually remember seeing any reviews of it. I do seem to remember it was a book for book lovers and it has ghosts and secrets and "gothic strangeness" (so says the back of the book). It's a book I'm drawn to but not immediately taken with. However this copy was on a remainder table and a sale always gets me. So I picked this up. Then Alice of Reading Rambo suggested I read Turn of the Screw first so I put the book down intent on really doing this. And then months passed and I hadn't read either book. Last week I decided screw it, I'm just going to read The Thirteenth Tale without having done my homework first. (Umm Alice, my dog ate it...)

When I started the book I was very...unhappy with it. I hate the narrator. She annoyed me so much and pretty much anytime she was talking (and being the narrator it was fairly frequent) I would find my mind wandering. I'd put down the book and stare into space. You'd think it'd be easy to pay attention to a book when I'm sitting on a train and have nothing else to do but at times I was like "I could keep reading, but I think I should stare at this brick wall for awhile instead of seeing what else Margaret has to say". Luckily a lot of the book is made up of other people telling Margaret stories, so there are large chunks where she's not around at all. I loved these parts.

Quick summary: One day Margaret gets a letter from Miss Vida Winter, a famous and much loved author, asking Margaret to act as biographer. Miss Winter has always been a bit of a mystery but in her last days she's ready to tell the truth. So Margaret learns Miss Winter's history, which involves unruly twins, possible ghosts and a fire that destroyed the Angelfield estate.

Miss Winter's stories are fantastic. I was sucked into that world completely. Even when it got weird and incesty. Because it gets weird and incesty at times people. You learn about this house that is full of secrets and ghosts and a lot of very neglectful parents. You also get to hear stories from a man that grew up just outside the grand estate, an orphan who never knew his family and had been trying to untangle that mystery for years. Whenever we got these stories, things were great. Whenever Margaret showed up and spent way too long talking about sharpening pencils, I started to wander. Because seriously? Pencil sharpening? Why was there more than 1/2 a sentence about that?

While I overall enjoyed the story, there were problems with it. Little things (other than Margaret sucking) that made me stop and go "Wait, what?"

-The book talks about twins. A lot. At one point there's a description of twins and about how twins are created when a cell that's supposed to be one splits into two. Which yes, that's how identical twins are created. Not fraternal though. So you're partially right. Of course she then goes on to talk about how twins are completed and everyone else is a sad shadow of a person, incomplete, because they don't have a twin and that's why people form relationships and get married and such. Because twins never do that.

-The incesty stuff, although I suppose that's supposed to make you go "wait, what?" And it's never explicit. Merely implied.

-Some of the things Setterfield describes that are supposed to be very deep end up unintentionally hilarious. They may seem good on paper, but as soon as you try to picture someone doing this, it's all lost. For example, in Miss Winter's story the twins had been separated and are then reunited. They are so happy to be back together that they hold each other, staring into each others eyes for 24 hours. And they blink in unison. Take a second and just picture 2 people holding each other, staring into each others eyes and blinking in unison for hours on end. Takes away some of the power of that reunion doesn't it?

-Margaret is sort of obsessed with books. To the point of ridiculousness and this is coming from someone that writes a book blog and LOVES books. But at one point she talks about how she's such an inveterate reader that she can't help but traipse through this overgrowth to read a memo posted on a dilapidated house. Really? She loves reading THAT much that she MUST read this memo? Not because she's curious about the memo. It's her need to read that makes her do this. Of course this contradicts her earlier saying she doesn't read the contemporary novels that are at her father's bookstore.

It was an entertaining book. It's not the most bestest book ever. It's not the best written, there are inconsistencies and obv I hated the narrator (have I not been clear on that yet?) but I still enjoyed it. And I didn't see the twist coming so touche.

Title quote from page 58

Setterfield, Diane. The Thirteenth Tale. Washington Square Press, 2006.