In true Brontë style, The Thirteenth Tale is not a story of the external ghosts that haunt buildings or graveyards. Rather, it tells of the internal ghosts that haunt us all. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart. Jane Eyre, a recurring theme in the book, is referenced often and I have the urge to listen to it again so the mood this book has put me in doesn’t escape me. Setterfield manages to create a landscape for her book that is on the one hand bleak and on the other splashed with colours of passion and madness. There is A LOT of madness in this book.
The story is told from the point of view of a biographer, Margaret Lea, who has been commanded to listen to and record the story of a famous and reclusive writer, Vida Winter, who is dying. In the process, Lea uncovers the truth about Winters’ past, and at the same time acknowledges her own tragic story.
“All children mythologize their birth…” is how the story begins and through the pages we encounter a string of characters who not only mythologize their births, but grip the story of their births to point where they are almost unable to see anything else.
Setterfield has done a masterful job of maintaining the voices of these two women who are reliving their pasts while the present is crashing down around them. It’s hard to believe how well she captured the feel of Jane Eyre while telling a completely new story. The twists and turns of the plot were natural, and yet always unexpected. I found myself driving to work saying things like, “But what about…..”, or “Ah, so that’s it….,” out loud. I’m glad nobody was watching.
At first I thought it was a bit distracting having two readers, one for Margaret (Bianca Amato) and one for Vida (Jill Tanner). The two voices at first don’t have the same kind of contrast I’d come to expect from audiobooks that utilize multiple readers. As the story progressed, however, I saw how subtly and skillfully each embraced her part. By the end I couldn’t imagine only one reader bringing justice to the book.
I haven’t heard either Amato or Tanner read before and both were exquisite. It would be interesting to hear both of them read a book that was more upbeat – I wonder what that would sound like.
I listened to this on CD and it was well worth the irritation I felt changing discs all the time. There is a blank track at the end of each disc which I’m assuming was there to indicate that it was time to change discs. I haven’t encountered that before. It’s less irritating than a strange voice telling me what to do. I see it’s now available on Audible which would be much easier to listen to.
Apparently there is also an abridged version of this book on audio. I don’t do abridgements (EVER!) so I can’t really comment on it. It has different readers as well.
(15 hrs and 38 mins), Simon and Schuster Audio, 2006
The Thirteenth Tale on Audible
* Note: This review was previously published many years ago on my old Audiobook Freak blog.