RIP III: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
All right. I've decided it's time to come up with me own review system because stars are for math people. There's nothing wrong with being a math person - quite the contrary, I'm married to one - but I work better with words, and wanted a way to distinguish between good books that should be checked out of the library and great books that deserve a permanent place on my shelves. You know, some meaningful way to differentiate between "I liked it" and "I really liked it." The space issue is all too relevant, as I'm completely out of shelf space and have taken to jacking up the bed so we can shove more stuff under there.
The Official PMF Book Ranking Scale ™ (at least until I get a Kindle)
Keeper: Loved the book, highly recommend it, and will be rereading it in the future. Definitely has a place on my bookshelf. Go forth and support your local bookshop with this one.
Charming: Liked the book, enjoyed reading it, but not sure it merits precious shelf space. Something I'd prefer to get from the library instead of buying.
Eh: Didn't hate it, didn't love it, liked it a little. Might recommend getting it from the library to others, but only if all the books you really wanted are already checked out.
There's a bottom category called Recycle for Origami that is self-explanatory; there's only one book I can think of that would fit but I'd feel too mean to post about it publicly. After all, someone spent a lot of time on it, even if I did think it was total rubbish. Now, onto the review.
The Thirteenth Tale is a modern gothic mystery about gothic mysteries, a book about book lovers for book lovers, a ghost story about ghost stories. The heroine is straight out of the classic vein -- neat, intelligent, well-read...a girl with convictions and sensible shoes, in short, one who would never wear lowriders or get her navel pierced. Vida Winter, "the world's most famous living author," has asked our noble heroine to serve as her official biographer; this is no easy task as Ms. Winter is also famous for always, always answering reporters' questions with fanciful spun glass creations. Our noble heroine agrees to take on the task, but only if she can be positive that Ms. Winter is finally telling her the truth. She starts to dig around in the past, only to uncover that the truth may be even more incredible than the lies...and that her own truth may be somehow intertwined in this story.
What makes the novel particularly fun is all the references to gothic classics. Readers of Jane Eyre will be able to recognize certain common elements in both books; apparently Rebecca is also invoked but I've never read that one so those went completely over my head. And there are others, if you are looking for them. The novel is well-written and I enjoyed the descriptions of both characters and setting. Windy moors? Check. Labyrinthian garden and protective cat? Check and check. Violent male character completely off his rocker, but only because he's so consumed with passion for a female character? Check. Although I can't honestly say I was completely engrossed in the story from the first page, once the main character starts her investigation in earnest I did get sucked in and had a hard time putting the book down. The atmosphere is pretty captivating! And oh, the ending -- I totally did not see that one coming. Love it when that happens.
Now, for the critique: there's a lot of hype surrounding this book, and while I did enjoy reading it and am looking forward to reading more of her novels, I'm not sure it completely lived up to my expectations. The main disappointment involved a hypothetical situation in which Ms. Winter proposes a test to see how much Margaret Lea loves books. There is a conveyor belt with a furnace at the end, and on the belt are all the copies of all the books you've ever loved in your entire life. Next to the machine is a man with his hand on the 'on' switch. In your hand you've got a gun. What are you going to do? Are you going to shoot the man or are you going to watch all those books disappear forever?
It seemed a little ridiculous to me. First, I'm holding the guy at gunpoint, so it seems like I'd already have the upper hand. Second, if the point is that I'm a booklover and want to save books, then shouldn't I at least try to take advantage of all my knowledge gleaned from reading and try to outwit him? I'm holding the gun; he's going to listen. Perhaps it would make more sense to just try to disable the machine, or at the very least I could remove the bullets and try to club him over the head with the gun. I'm a booklover, not a psychopath. Mind over muscle and all that. I was just not capable of suspending disbelief and felt it was weirdly out of place in a gothic atmosphere. I loved Fahrenheit 451, but this paled in comparison. There were other mild moments of disappointment I had while reading, but this was the one that I'll remember. Overall it was a bit of a strange reading experience in that I'd be completely captivated by the backstory (which is superbly done) but at times during the 'present' of the book I'd be left unmoved.
Sooooo I have to say that I'd rate this book a very high Charming but not quite a definite Keeper. I really do think it's a worthwhile read but I'm not sure that I'll reread it as often as the books mentioned within, especially now that I know The Secret. It's definitely a good choice for a RIP read!
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
RIP III: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Posted by Pardon My French at 8:21 PM