Sunday, October 01, 2006

Book Review: "The Thirteenth Tale"

I'm always suspicious of books like Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, which has rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists and is getting significant "buzz" around the BookWorld water cooler. But, Borders sucked me in with a good discount, so I picked up a copy on Friday to see what all the fuss is about. I read the book in a single sitting last night.

First of all, I must warn you not to be fooled by the jacket-synopsis, which makes the novel sound like utter treacle. After reading it I almost didn't buy the book, but I'm glad I did in the end. Setterfield has woven a fascinating tale of intertwined lives and bizarre-yet-believable characters, complemented by a well-paced narrative and some fascinating puzzles.

The Thirteenth Tale is infused with books: the narrator was raised in her father's rare book shop, and her mysterious biographical subject is not only an author but also has a fabulous library of her own. The references to and echoes of Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Wilkie Collins and Henry James are carefully placed and not overcooked as so often happens in writing like this. Anyone who enjoys books and reading them will find something to like here. Admittedly, he narrator and I come down firmly on different sides of the white-gloves controversy, but I suppose I won't hold that against her.

I won't rehash the plot-lines of Setterfield's book, but will just say that I highly recommend it. It doesn't break the mold or change the face of literature forever, but it is a fine read indeed.