Vida Winter, a reclusive, immensely popular writer, has kept her audience guessing as to what her thirteenth tale might be. Would it be as delightful and enchanting as the twelve she’s already written? The writer is as famous for her secrets as for her stories. Winter disdains the truth. “My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story?”
The famous writer commissions a little-known Cambridge biographer, Margaret Lea, with the offer to tell her life’s story. Lea journeys by train to Vida Winter’s big, old estate in Yorkshire where the biographer will live while gathering information from the elderly, dying author. They make a pact that Winter will tell only the truth and her biographer will not ask to skip around the story, that the story will be told in its proper order with a beginning, middle, and end, with no questions asked.
And what a story it is, reaching back to Winter’s family beginnings to an odd, wealthy household in the village of Angelfield near Banbury, England. Although the book encompasses many characters, it’s surprisingly easy to keep them sorted, thanks to rich characterization given to the many players.
Vida Winter’s story is compelling, but so is the biographer’s. Her role in the telling of the story is not without its own mysterious elements.
Setterfield spins a satisfying, richly descriptive tale to remember. I loved the British way of expression, the turn of phrase, the windswept-lay-of-the-land descriptions. It’s a multi-layered modern version of a Victorian novel, told with twists and surprising turns. I highly recommend The Thirteenth Tale.