The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: A-

From the back cover:
Margaret Lea, a bookseller’s daughter whose own past is a mystery, is contacted by Vida Winter, a venerated author renowned for her secrecy.

Vida has always been reclusive, publishing popular “autobiographies” that are anything but the truth. Now, Vida is nearing death, and she wants to tell her last tale—the notoriously missing 13th tale—before her time comes. Struck by curious parallels to her own life story, Margaret agrees to help Vida and reveal the truth. Travelling to an aging and haunted estate, Margaret is unprepared for the heartache that will accompany Vida’s deepest secrets—and what they will reveal about her own past.

I checked this book out with great trepidation. Having seen it hyped in several mainstream places, I was obviously skeptical about its merits, even though the premise sounded like an interesting one. I in no way expected to like it as much as I did.

Good stuff: The Thirteenth Tale references Jane Eyre quite a bit, and it is reminiscent of that story, but it also reminded me strongly of Rebecca. Familiar elements include spooky presences, derelict old houses to explore, strange and creepy families, and dour housekeepers. It’s thoroughly entertaining, and often surprising.

Not so good stuff: One plot twist that was probably supposed to be a surprise was easy to predict. Margaret is sometimes irritating, and her narration was a lot less interesting than Vida’s story. The ending was also a bit drawn out, but it also wrapped things up thoroughly.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The unabridged audiobook from Recorded Books is particularly good, and I think helped to create a storytelling vibe.

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