Monday, June 2, 2008

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel by Diane Setterfield

Have I mentioned that I love books? I do. When I'm in a good book, the house goes to pieces, the kids wear dirty clothes and eat things I can give them to manage on their own (like string cheese), and the husband only sees the top half of my face peering at him over the spine of whatever book I'm obsessed with at that moment.

There are novels that I have read over several times, and every time I find something new. Then there are the novels that I've just recently found, which make me want to go out and find everything the author has ever written and bury myself in them for a month.

As if my house could stand to be neglected that long!

That's where I've been the past 3 days. With the exception of two prior engagements (my step-sister's baby shower and a playdate with Jennifer of Playgroups are No Place for Children) I have been buried in The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

I've just finished it, and I've already decided to read it again before I relist it on Paperback Swap. I need to let it sit and sort itself out in my head, a little, first. And I have about half a dozen other books that I'm in the middle of right now, but I know it's one that I'll read again (and again?) because I know I'll find something new in it the next time I open its cover.

The story is about a writer who is asked by a famous, elderly author who has always lied about her past, to write her life story. The elderly author is eccentric, and tells the writer that she will not allow any questions or jumping ahead in the story. No looking at the last page before its time. And so the story of the writer unfolds as the story of the author unfolds. And it's a convoluted story of love and loss and madness. It references Victorian Gothic novels like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights... and with good reason. By the end of the story it becomes clear that The Thirteenth Tale is, itself, a Modern Gothic novel. It has all of the qualities - mystery, unrequited love, violence, death, tragedy - that we love about the Victorian Gothics. (Ok, I just looked at the Wikipedia page for Gothic Fiction - just to make sure I had all of my adjectives right - after all, it's been a while since college English - and I found a reference to one of my college professors - Susan Gubar. CRAZY! Now I have to go and find all of the people I know who have Wikipedia pages. That could take a while... What's truly astonishing is that I remember anything at all from the two years I spent at IU, but that's another story for another day).

It was very, very good, and if you're looking for something to add to your summer reading list, I recommend it.

What are you reading? What's your favorite Gothic novel? Mine is Jane Eyre. I guess reading it for the class of an expert in the field of literature didn't hurt. I also love The Phantom of the Opera, but mainly because of the play.

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