Friday, October 5, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale

Occasionally, I peruse the New York Times and bestsellers lists to see what the kids are reading. Diane Setterfield’s novel The Thirteenth Tale popped out from the rest. Words like “ghost story” and “haunted” intrigued me. It is now October—the perfect time to read a haunted ghost story.

I kept waiting for the book to be spooky, scary, frightening—anything Halloween-like. I was disappointed. In fact, I almost abandoned the book after the first 100 pages. The story is about masochism, extreme cruelty, and incest—not exactly my favorite topics.

I persisted, but I’m not sure it was worth it. I found Setterfield’s writing irritatingly, unnecessarily, and unnaturally verbose. She refers continually to Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Woman in White (I wonder if she’s ever read any other books), so her wordiness might be a tribute to an earlier style. However, she is no BrontĂ« or Wilkie Collins, does not live in the nineteenth century, and can not pull it off. Indeed, four different characters narrate the book, and they all drag on endlessly.

The main character, Margaret Lea, also lacks appeal. She should be my ideal character—she works in an antique books store and is obsessed with nineteenth-century literature—but I actually feel repulsed by her. Setterfield tries so hard to make Margaret into the perfect reader that the character lacks authenticity and appeal.

And don’t get me started on the anachronisms. The book appears to take place in modern times, yet Margaret, a researcher, never uses a cell phone, makes no mention of a computer (she writes her book by hand and uses archives for all her research), and communicates using snail mail. Excuse me?

Before starting this review, I thought I had luke-warm feelings about the book. Apparently not.


Wanna-Be Lit said...

I guess I won't add this one to my "to read" list.

Chris said...

Why do you think many people are reading this book? What is the appeal?

Blogger said...

That's a thought-provoking question. Maybe they like scandalous content. Maybe other people thought it was more mysterious than I. Regardless, other people are wrong.