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Publisher's Summary

All children mythologize their birth... So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter's beloved collection of stories, long famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale. The enigmatic Winter has always kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she summons a biographer to tell the truth about her extraordinary life: Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth remains an ever-present pain.

Disinterring the life she meant to bury for good, Vida mesmerizes Margaret with the power of her storytelling. Hers is a tale of gothic strangeness, featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, and a devastating fire. Struck by a curious parallel between their stories, Margaret demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them.

The Thirteenth Tale is a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter, and in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.

©2006 Diane Setterfield (P)2007 Simon & Schuster Audio

Critic Reviews

  • Audie Award Finalist, Literary Fiction, 2007

"Bianca Amato is stunning as Margaret....[her] respect for the power of story and the written word is heard in every utterance. Jill Tanner accomplishes a tour de force as the enigmatic and mysterious Vida. In conversation her voice has the hesitancy and fragility of an elderly woman, but her voice takes on the strength and power of a master storyteller as she weaves her spellbinding life story." (AudioFile)
"Readers will be mesmerized by this story-within-a-story tinged with the eeriness of Rebecca and the willfulness of Jane Eyre. The author skillfully keeps the plot moving by unfurling a new twist in each chapter and leaves no strand untucked at the surprising and satisfying conclusion. A wholly original work told in the vein of all the best gothic classics. Lovers of books about book lovers will be enthralled." (Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall

Simply Amazing Story--2 missing chapters

This story is absolutely amazing. It is captivating and enthralling. However, the unabridged Audible copy of this story is missing two chapters near the end of the second file (as the story is so long that it requires two files). As it is, KEY story ending information is left out. Audible has been informed of this problem and I assume it will be corrected at some time.

Ultimately this is not a story to be missed. However, if you are looking for an unabridged copy of the book, this is not currently it.

138 of 143 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Cathleen
  • upper darby, PA, United States
  • 10-05-06

Once you finish it, you'll listen again!

I have never been a fan of gothic novels...and after listening to this for about 15 minutes, I wondered why I had gone against my intial instincts, and purchased this book . If I had actually been reading this,(instead of listening) at this point it would have been tossed! What a tragedy that would have been! For I would have missed the chance to be transported into Vida Winter's world. Like Margaret, for me the story took over, and I found my self unable to stop listening. Margaret herself grabbed hold of me, for I, too, understood her love of stories. When I finished it, I knew I had to hear it again, because now that I knew the story, I wanted to listen to the words and visualize the beautiful imagery that Ms. Setterfield created.(and besides I wasn't quite ready to let these characters go...)
Barnes and Noble has created the word, "unputdownable" for this new book club they have created. I heartily concur! This particular delicacy is meant to be savored. Enjoy...

109 of 113 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Haunting and beautiful tale

This debut novel is a skillfully written and artfully narrated piece of fiction--what I would rate as true literature--that is well worth a listen or a read. The plot is so well crafted that you are carefully drawn into the story as it slowly yet enjoyably unfolds. I was a little skeptical at first, seeing that the publisher is really pushing this novel, but I would recommend it to those who appreciate an original and satisfying book.

57 of 59 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jolie
  • Grand Junction, CO, United States
  • 06-18-08

A return to the moors...

Perhaps you went through a British lit phase like I once did, where you read all things Bronte, Dickens, and Austen. The Thirteenth Tale is a marvelous return to the Bronte-type books, with vast estates on the moors complete with twisted passages, secrets , and ghosts. It is the life story of Vida Winter, England's most famous living author, at the end of her life--and it is the first time she's told this version (the truth) to anyone. It is told to Margaret Lea, whose own life is twisted in on itself because of a secret she discovered as a child, and it is large, and complex, and wonderfully gothic. The narrators do a terrific job of creating these two women's voices and characters, and give a beautifully nuanced reading.

52 of 54 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Unique, highest quality writing, excellent read.

I tend to get overwhelmed picking new authors and books, so many times I get a book based on the customer reviews. This was one such purchase. I got way more than my money's worth in this wonderfully complex tale. It does start out slow--but the wait is worth it. I am usually good at picking out the end of a book, but this one keep me on the edge of my seat, listening for hours and hours at a time so I could find out how the mysteries unfolded. In a world where NOT well-written, fluffy serial books are being acclaimed, I am not sure everyone will find this story's dark tale as easy of a read. It is more complex that the normal fluff that I have read lately, and for that I am grateful! This story, rich in detail and emotion, has deep secrets it will not give out easily. It is a journey the reader is taken on, and the journey is not neatly packaged in a Hollywood blockbuster style. The story is layered and revealed thus. Beautifully written, perfectly narrated, and completely original, this book is well worth the time and money.

56 of 59 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

This stunning debut by Diane Setterfield held me bound to the story for hours on end, taking breaks now and then to think about it and savor what had been said, and anticipate what was about to come.

Margaret Lea is the somewhat lonely, solitary daughter on an antiquarian bookseller. She has lived her life surrounded by the wonderful books in her father's store, her job being to keep the thousand's of volumes dusted and orderly, and take care of things when her father is gone to one book fair or another as he searches out worthy additions to the shop. She, too, became a lover of books, eventually becoming a writer of biographies.

Britain's most famous author, Vida Winter (what a great name) seeks out Ms. Lea, as she is dying and wants to tell her story to just the right biographer. Margaret thinks of herself as a "talented amateur" when it comes to her writing, and wonders why this famous author is seeking her out for this astonishing challenge. Vida Winter has something in common with this biographer as it turns out, and this secret along with many other's is woven into the tale with the skill of someone who had been writing books for decades.

I won't go into the specific story details, as the author's summary and other reviews have done that--but I do want to say that the fantastic narration by Bianca Amato and Jill Tanner makes this book so delicious to hear. I think without a doubt, the audio version increases the enjoyment of this story ten fold.

NOTE: For those who have been waiting for the next treasure by Ms. Setterfield, Audible has her next book, "Bellman & Black," listed as a new release coming out next month. I can't wait. Seven years between publications--this author is not one to churn out a book every year as some do, and I hope it will be as enchanting as this one.

30 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

For lovers of books

Reading is highly personal, we know that what one loves, another may disdain. And so the reading of The Thirteenth Tale cannot please all. It's rare, however, to find so much divergence in reviews of this amazing story. Personally, I became enthralled after the first half hour of listening. As others have mentioned doing, I found excuses to listen. My sessions at the gym lengthened, I drove the long way home instead of taking the shortcut and I hung on every sentence. The narration is absolutely perfect for the story. Let's hope the author is hard at work on her next.

25 of 27 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Wonderfully satisfying story

Setterfield has written a contemporary novel that has all the elements of a juicy Victorian novel - complicated plot lines filled with family secrets, governesses, young women seeking their pasts, characters one really cares about and a forward motion to the plot that keeps one listening late into the night. Both narrators are pitch perfect and Bianco Amato's expressive voice with its underlying sadness creates a wonderfully atmospheric effect that suits the story perfectly. Highly recommended.

28 of 31 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Painfully slow for me

I'm a very patient listener, but I found this story to be painfully slow from start to finish. I finished it, but it took a fair amount of effort on my part to keep myself focused on the story as it progressed.

I'm actually fairly confused as to why there are so many 'rave' reviews on this book and so many other reviews that seem to reflect my feelings that it was was very hard to enjoy. I guess I'll chalk it up to a person's individual taste. My recommendation is that if you are a reader that likes books with a fair amount of action involved with the main characters, then this novel may not be for you.

31 of 35 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • stl1111
  • La Grande, OR, United States
  • 10-07-06

One of the best

This book may be the best book I've listened to. Well read, beautifully written, interesting story, realistic characters. The lyrical prose in this book captured my mind as I listened and I found myself not being able to concentrate on the story as the readers kept reading. I needed to think about and process what I had just heard. It was a wonderful book to listen to, but it also needs to be read. I listened, and then ordered the hard back so that I could read it next. Don't let the concept of ghosts deter you. This book celebrates reading, literature, and our own personal stories. Don't pass it up!

18 of 20 people found this review helpful