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The Thirteenth Tale


Summary of "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield

"The Thirteenth Tale" is a gothic suspense novel that intertwines mystery, family secrets, and the transformative power of storytelling. The story revolves around two main characters: Vida Winter, a famous but reclusive author known for her collection of twelve stories (though a thirteenth remains mysteriously absent), and Margaret Lea, a young biographer who specializes in the history of the dead.

Vida has spent her life creating various backstories for herself, none of which are true. As her health declines, she summons Margaret to her estate to write her biography, promising to tell the truth about her life for the first time. The novel unfolds as Vida narrates her dark and tumultuous past, centered on her time at Angelfield House, the home of the March family, which was later destroyed by fire.

Themes of the novel include the exploration of identity, the impact of the past on the present, and the nature of truth versus fiction. The story delves into the complex relationships within the March family, including twins Adeline and Emmeline, and the tragic events that led to the family's downfall. As Margaret listens to Vida's tale, she confronts her own personal grief and starts to uncover the connection between Vida's story and her own life.

The narrative is rich in atmosphere, with the decaying mansion of Angelfield House serving as a central symbol of the secrets and tragedies that lie buried within its walls. The novel also reflects on the art of storytelling itself, suggesting that stories, whether true or fabricated, hold the power to shape lives and reveal hidden truths.

In the end, "The Thirteenth Tale" is a testament to the enduring impact of stories and the ways in which they can bring healing and understanding, even in the face of loss and suffering.