November 5, 2006
The Thirteenth Tale
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Finished on 10/31/06
Rating: B (6/10 So-so)
Each year there seems to be one book about which everyone is talking: The Kite Runner, Bel Canto, Life of Pi, Plainsong, and Cold Mountain, to name just a few. This year’s “book buzz” award goes to Diane Setterfield’s debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Bloggers across the globe have been raving about this gothic tale since it hit the shelves earlier this fall (and in some cases, well before, thanks to the ubiquitous Advance Reader’s Copy). Word of mouth is an author’s best friend and bloggers have done nothing but help boost Setterfield’s fame and, undoubtedly, fortune.
I hate to be the voice of dissension, but this book failed to impress me as it did Heather, Dolce Bellezza, Carl, Booklogged, Bluestalking Reader, Di, Lesley, and thousands of other readers.
It’s not that I didn’t like the book (I love the dust jacket with it’s rich cover art and raised lettering, not to mention all the passages about reading and the love of books). I just didn’t feel the magic that so many other readers experienced.
Judging by the number of favorite passages, though, one would think I’d've given the book a higher rating. Unfortunately, I felt the narrative dragged a bit too much and I had a tough time staying focused. I’d curl up with the book, read a few pages only to discover my mind wandering or that I’d drifted off to sleep. Until the last hundred pages, I couldn’t manage to get engrossed in the narrative, only caring for one of the characters (and a secondary character, at that) and finding several that struck me as terribly mean and heartless.
Was it a case of too much hype? There are currently 2,462 posts matching “The Thirteenth Tale” at Blogger! Wrong time, wrong read? Still on too much of a book high after reading The Book Thief? Did I spend too much brain power trying to sort out all the clues in a futile attempt to unravel the book’s mystery? As the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place during the last quarter of the book, my interest did heighten and I sat and read for a couple of hours, anxious to see how it would all turn out.
Please don’t misunderstand my disappointment. This is certainly not a terrible book. It’s not even a bad book. It simply failed to live up to my expectations for a great read. I didn’t quit reading and there were definitely enjoyable parts that kept my interest, but overall all, meh. Not one I’ll read again and I’m almost sorry I spent the money on a hardcover (although, as I said it is a gorgeous cover and my husband loved the book, so at least we got our money’s worth).
People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.
Time was of the essence. For at eight o’clock the world came to an end. It was reading time.
The hours between eight in the evening and one or two in the morning have always been my magic hours. Against the blue candlewick bedspread the white pages of my open book, illuminated by a circle of lamplight, were the gateway to another world.
There is one thing on which we are agreed: There are too many books in the world to read in a single lifetime; you have to draw the line somewhere.
Of course one always hopes for something special when one reads an author one hasn’t read before… I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled. And during this time, these days when I read all day and half the night, when I sleep under a counterpane strewn with books, when my sleep was black and dreamless and passed in a flash and I woke to read again – the lost joys of reading returned to me…
Whether by luck or accident I cannot say, but I found my way to the library a full twenty minutes earlier than I had been commanded to attend. It was not a problem. What better place to kill time than in a library? And for me, what better way to get to know someone than through her choice and treatment of books?
All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes – characters even – caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you. Well, it was like that. All day I had been prey to distractions. Thoughts, memories, feelings, irrelevant fragments of my own life, playing havoc with my concentration.