When you find a good book, like a really, really good book, time seems to stop; it seems irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether its morning or night, dreaded Mondays or happening Fridays, you just want to do one thing- read uninterrupted.
And when you’re immersed in a good book, enjoying the twisted, convoluted plots, every page is a delight. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is brilliant. Bloody brilliant. Terming it as a ‘must-read’ would be an insult as the phrase is readily handed out to titles left, right and centre these days. This book is like a gem you stumble upon in the most unexpected of places. A regular book fair, slumped under a dusty pile of second hand books, lying forgotten.
Set in a small English village, involving a literary genius, a haunted house, twins that have an eerie aura about them and the upsetting travails of the Angelfield family. This is set against a backdrop of misty moors and cold, dark winter. Sometimes, while incredibly absorbed in the book, I’d wish I was reading it in some tiny cottage in the Himalayas during winter and armed with hot chocolate; which is exactly why I’m planning on re-reading The Shining this winter.
The main protagonists, Adeline and Emmeline, the identical twins, are mysterious. Neither do the family members nor the village folk are able to dissect their connected thinking process. Brought up in a broken, dysfunctional family, products of an incestuous relationship, these girls run riot through homes, stealing food and creating quite a ruckus. The renowned author in the story, Vida Winter, reaches out to an amateur biographer, Margaret Lea, so she can spill the secrets of the family that sit heavily on her chest. Winter’s dialogues are as remarkable as her appearances, gaudy and beguiling. In a letter to the biographer, she writes:
“My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succour, 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.”
Apart from Winter and her fame, the backstory of her childhood, of the birth of her mother, existence of the twins, their separation, the story also delves on Lea and her family, with quite a story of their own. With her own twin dead and cut off from her at birth, Lea’s mother has been living quite a half life since then. Brought up in her father’s bookshop, Lea surrounds herself with books and her career too revolves around them. With Lea, I meet for the first time, a fictional bibliophile whose love for books exudes through her words. And I couldn’t have been happier.
“As one tends the graves of the dead, so I tend the books. I clean them, do minor repairs, keep them in good order. And every day I open a volume or two, read a few lines or pages, allow the voices of the forgotten dead to resonate inside my head. Do they sense it, these dead writers, when their books are read? Does a pinprick of light appear in their darkness? Is their soul stirred by the feather touch of another mind reading theirs? I do hope so. For it must be very lonely being dead.”
This book falls in the genre of Gothic Fiction and similar books such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James have frequently been referred to in the book. These books deal in ghosts and murky family stories of the past, hidden secrets, large manors that are mostly situated in the middle of nowhere, if not the misty moors. These books, such as Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, have skyrocketed on my to-read list because now I’m craving for so much more.
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