The Thirteenth Tale

Author: Diane Setterfield
Pages: 406
Publisher: Atria

Format: Hardcover
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father's antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise–she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story. In the end, both women have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets. As well as the ghosts that haunt them still.


My Summary: Margaret is an amateur biographer living above her fathers bookstore. One cold winter night, she returns home to find a letter waiting for her on her porch steps - a letter from the famous writer Vida Winters. And Ms. Winters has an odd request: she wants Margaret to write her biography.

Shocked by Ms. Winter's request, Margaret reluctantly agrees. But nothing could have prepared her for the the dying author's story, and the more immersed she becomes in Vida Winter's past, the more her own past seems to haunt her.

My Thoughts: From the moment I read the first line of The Thirteen Tale, I was hooked. Setterfield draws the reader in with the mystery of the envelope on Margaret's front steps and doesn't release them again until the book is over. I adored the dark, creepy atmosphere of the novel and the realness of the characters - each was inflicted with their own secrets; each had something they were running from but couldn't escape. So many stories intertwined in this book, and yet each was easy to understand. I loved the way Ms. Winter's story kept you guessing until the very end. The author has a gift for weaving words together - every line was beautifully written. It felt like poetry.

I adored this book. The only thing I disliked is the fact that I'll never own my own copy of Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. 

Final Thoughts: I definitely recommend this to anyone who is a fan of gothic literature, as well as mysteries. 


  1. This looks REALLY good, thanks so much for reviewing it. I shall add it to my ever-growing TBR pile ;)

  2. Authors of any kind have to be some of the most interesting people on the planet, and since this book is centered around one, I'll definitely check it out. I remember this one poet I met who sang a narrative about domestic abuse at her reading, and it was harrowing as hell.


tell me what you think!