Review: The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield


Title: The Thirteenth Tale

Author: Diane Setterfield

Genre: Contemporary Gothic/Mystery

Published: 2006

Pages: 456

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten. It was once the imposing home of the March family – fascinating, manipulative Isabelle, Charlie, her brutal and dangerous brother, and the wild, untamed twins, Emmeline and Adeline. But Angelfield House conceals a chilling secret whose impact still resonates …
Now Margaret Lea is investigating Angelfield’s past – and the mystery of the March family starts to unravel. What has the house been hiding? What is its connection with the enigmatic author Vida Winter? And what is it in Margaret’s own troubled past that causes her to fall so powerfully under Angelfield’s spell?

Hello Everyone,

welcome to my review of The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. I have just finished this one a couple of minutes ago, and even though it is not one of my favorite books of all time, I still need to get my thoughts down onto the page. I have heard about this book countless times, and have been wanting to read it for long. I finally did, and it is not exactly what I expected, even though I did enjoy it and it was a solid 4 star read for me.

I had always heard that this is a book for book lovers, and even though yes, I see where that comment comes from, I would like to point out that this is a book for Victorian literature lovers, and not all book lovers. The protagonist almost exclusively reads Victorian literature, and most references are to this particular era. Whilst I love Victorian literature (I studied it at university), I am a voracious reader, and read variably. Therefore I felt that this restriction in the narrative slightly diminished my enjoyment of the story, bringing a potential 5 star read to a 4. Nonetheless, these are the rest of my thoughts on this novel.

  • Plot: This novel is a gothic mystery, and the plot follows these guidelines. It is intricate, convoluted, and you must be aware that not all the knot are untangled by the end. The reason why Vida Winter asked Margaret specifically to fulfill her desire is given, but also not quite believable. All the clues do point to the resolution, and while some things I was able to untangle myself, others did come as a surprise. Overall, I enjoyed the plot.
  • Characters: Many of the characters fell flat. The was ample lack of characterization in my opinion, which leads one to like this book for other reasons (plot, and evocative writing). Many characters were only briefly sketched out, and given the numerous cast and the intricacy of the story, it is understandable. However I must say that by the end Vida Winter was the character I knew best.
  • Writing: I feel like most readers fall in love with the writing rather than plot and characters. Even though full of mystery and suspense, this book is wordy and lack in dialogue. Most of the story is told through descriptions and layers upon layers of storytelling, diary entries and letters (which reminded me a lot of Wuthering Heights). Setterfield’s style is whimsical, evocative, and very flowery. I enjoyed it.

These are all my thoughts on The Thirteenth Tale. I have decided not to include a spoiler section because I do believe the story is self explanatory. There is only one question that goes unanswered, and if you want my opinion on that, I will leave you with one name: Adeline March. Make of that what you will.

Until next time,


2 thoughts on “Review: The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

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