Wednesday, September 17, 2008

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!


xicanti said...

I agree with your assessment of "Charming." I read this earlier this year, and while I got a big kick out of it I didn't think it was worth purchasing brand new at full price. (I got mine in a remainders shop for very cheap). I've mainly kept it around because I want to see how it rereads now that I know The Secret.

Nymeth said...

I'm reading Rebecca and then this as soon as I finish my current reads. All the praise did make my expectations very high. I wonder if the book will live up to them.

Reb said...

Hey, I have a little something for you. Stop by ;)

fuzzycricket said...

What a cool rating system. "Charming" is a good word for this book. I enjoyed your review!

KathyUSA said...

Been missing you! SO darn busy latly!!! And now I have a cold (along with the rest of the crew). Last night, "A" was playing with the Chicken you got her for xmas. Of course she had taken it's cloths off. Sending you huggs!!!

KathyUSA said...

I added a few more pictures of our Philly trip(look under read more). Come back by if you get the chance.

Dewey said...

I really enjoyed this book, too, and would have rated it exactly as you did.

Madeleine said...


I found your blog on Carl's and noticed your blog curious, I had to check if you where French. I am French and living in Virginia.

I loved THE THIRTEENTH TALE and it did get me hooked on gothic tales.

I will add you to my blogroll

Bonne journee


Pardon My French said...

Xicanti - "support your local secondhand bookshop" would be another good category! Hmmm...

Nymeth - Can't wait to read both of your reviews. I'm sure Rebecca will be on next year's RIP list.

Reb -- Thanks!!!!!! Post coming soon...

Fuzzycricket & Dewey - thank you both and I'm looking forward to stopping by your blogs.

Kathy - well, we just talked so I'm sending you big hugs.

Madeleine -- thanks for adding me; I don't know if I've officially listed this but I hail from good ol' Southwest Virginia. Looking forward to reading your blog(s).

Framed said...

Great review and you said it so much better than I did. I liked Setterfield's writing but the story did not live up to expectations. Maybe her next book will.

Carl V. said...

Great rating system, very cool and straight to the point. I'm not that big on math either, maybe next year I'll rethink my rating system.

This is a definite Keeper for me. To be fair I read it when the hype was mostly coming from myself and the few other places I had seen it mentioned so I didn't have overwhelming expectations piled on, but from early, early on...within the first few pages...I was completely lost and I count it as one of my favorite reading experiences as an adult. It is definitely one I am looking forward to reading again someday even though I won't have the 'I didn't see that coming' experience. In the end that is what I love about reading. What can be a life changing experience for some people can be complete and utter boredom for others. I'm glad you enjoyed it to the level you did and it is definitely a perfect read for R.I.P.

GeraniumCat said...

This book sounds fun. I've been wondering about reading it, so I'll definitely go for it now.

Love the rating system, too, especially the bottom category.