The Thirteenth Tale


The “High Expectations” tag is a huge burden to carry for any book. But The thirteenth Tale does not disappoint even for a moment. I subconsciously kept waiting for the moment when I would say to myself that this book is good but not as good as I heard it was. That moment never came. In fact it was so much better than I thought it would be.

First of all, how can any book lover not love this book? With the beautiful writing and the numerous passages on libraries and books and stories and Jane Eyre, it’s very difficult to disappoint. I stopped underlying phrases that caught my fancy after 20 pages. I would have ended up highlighting 50% of the book.

The Thirteenth Tale starts with a letter from a very famous author, Vida Winter to Margaret who is an amateur biographer and whose father owns an antique book store. Winter does not request but orders Margaret to come to her villa so that they can start working on her biography together. She entices Margaret with the words, ‘Tell me the truth‘. But Margaret is skeptical. After numerous false biographies of Winter already in the market, she is not sure that she’ll get to know the truth.

But she takes a chance. She reaches Vida Winter’s villa and finds a frail and dying woman. As they start working towards the biography, Vida Winter spins a tale of her past. A past that is terrifying, sad and so ugly that it deserves to be kept in wraps.

The Thirteenth Tale was like a roller coaster ride. It’s a gothic style mystery that will keep you turning the pages late into the night. It leaves a lot of blank spaces and doubts in your mind and you start guessing and doubting and making sense of the story with Margaret.

The only thing I didn’t get was probably Margaret’s obsession with her own past. I understand why her relationship with her mother is the way it is, but what I don’t understand is her obsession and attachment with her twin sister whom she has never even seen. Another thing was that I thought Vida’s Winter’s story was purposely told in a scandalous way. The thing that Margaret discovers at the end should ideally be told with the main story itself. I don’t see how you can omit that. But then that’s how Vida Winters character was like. She was a storyteller and she told the story in the most interesting and haunting way she could. That’s the only explanation I could come up with.

My favorite character though was neither Margaret nor Ms. Winter. It was Aurelius, the baking giant. He was the one whom I felt most sympathy for and I was definitely satisfied with the ending that the author gave him.

Definitely 5 out of 5 stars.

This book was for Carl’s R.I.P Challenge. Thank you Carl. I have no idea how long this book would have gathered dust on my shelf if not for your challenge 🙂

Favorite passages:
I read old novels. The reason is simple: I prefer proper endings. Marriages and deaths, noble sacrifices and miraculous restorations, tragic separations and unhoped-for reunions, great falls and dreams fulfilled; these, in my view, constitute an ending worth the wait. They should come after adventures, perils, dangers and dilemmas, and wind everything up nice and neatly. Endings like this are to be found more commonly in old novels than new ones, so I read old novels.

There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.

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? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails? No. When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don’t expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.

Our lives are so important to us that we tend to think the story of them begins with our birth. First there was nothing, then I was born…Yet that is not so. Human lives are not pieces of string that can be separated out from a knot of others and laid out straight. Families are webs. Impossible to touch one part of it without setting the rest vibrating. Impossible to understand one part without having a sense of the whole.

and many more…

26 thoughts on “The Thirteenth Tale

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  1. That was a great review Violet. I am so glad to hear that your high expectations were met. So often books, even really good ones, get buried by their hype, especially when one comes to them late and SOOO many people have raved about it. I really love this book and am so happy when I discover that others love it as well.

    Be sure to post a link to your review on the R.I.P. review site, here:


  2. I have to say i simply love this book! I’ve read it 3 times now and have loved it each and every time.

    I think the obsession of Margaret to her twin delt with her not being told and then I got the feeling as she talked about how her twin could “not live without her” that she was what is called a “parsitic twin”.. in other words, not an entire being.. could be only a head and an arm .. or limbs.. she repeated the “can’t live without me” and “here is where we were attached” enough that this is a conclusion I drew from it, although I don’t know if it’s correct lol


  3. A friend of mine checked this out of the library and loved it so much she bought a copy. I’ve had her copy for several months and haven’t had a chance to read it yet. After your review, I’d like to start it right this second!


  4. Ah, thank you for reviewing this book! I’ve been hearing so much about it, and now I’m happy to know the hype wasn’t for nothing. Where is my library card?! 🙂


  5. HA! I actually dislike the endings of old novels how then-they-got-married-the-end it can be. Then again, I don’t really like it when modern novels go in the opposite direction and have WTF? sort of endings.


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