After I got back from SXSW I needed some hard-core abandoning involvement in the world time. I had taken a peek at Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, which I had ordered some time back but had not yet read, and he first chapter managed to get me involved.
It’s a gothic story that had a hook that immediately engaged me. A shy archivist engages a famous, aged, literary master to write her biography. This task is slightly more daunting than usual because the author has achieved fame and renown for giving incorrect details to those who have asked to know her biography. She explains how their eyes change from demanding and seeking the truth, to wanting “the warm comfort of a fat lie”. The writer, Vida Winter, suggests that within the recent past she has been approached by a guileless man who plaintively had asked that she “simply tell the truth” and that the need to speak the truth, perhaps in conjunction with the disease that is eating her within, prompted her to make an honest go of it.
…but she needs the rigor of an archivist to hold her to telling the true tale, and not weaving the scraps of stories that she still has in her satchel into another façade to enchant, entrance, and mislead the hearer.
Good set up, no?
True to a Gothic tale there are secret gardens and a decrepit manse in Yorkshire, men slowly maddening in locked rooms, ladies carried away to the asylum, a fire, children of questionable birth and the mystery of what would happen if your sense of identity were bound in two, not one beings ( more common than one might think ).
In all, it was a very fine read where the Modernist experiment in unreliable narrators telling tales ( Mrs. Dalloway or Memento? ) was wrapped in another layer, having the character put the unreliable tale in a crucible and ask the reader to work with her to distill away the confusion.
I recommend it.