Wednesday, July 22, 2009

book clubbing in July

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

We had another great discussion this month with Diane Setterfield's debut The Thirteenth Tale. Well-written and very literary, the book is like a gift to readers.

I have to admit, though, that I didn't enjoy The Thirteenth Tale quite as much as I thought I would. It is very atmospheric and, if I had to put my finger on it, I'd say that I just wasn't in the right mood for a gothic novel. That isn't to say, of course, that I don't think it was a fantastic book. In fact, my only complaint about the book is really a combined grouse about The Thirteenth Tale and Bad Twin (review) and it has to do with the way the two novels mythologize twins, but (without specifying) focus exclusively on identical twins.

My favorite passage from The Thirteenth Tale is this:
Dr. Clifton came. He listened to my heart and asked me lots of questions. "Insomnia? Irregular sleep? Nightmares?"
I nodded three times.
"I thought so."
He took a thermometer and instructed me to place it under my tongue, then rose and strode to the window. With his back to me, he asked, "And what do you read?"
With the thermometer in my mouth I could not reply.
"Wuthering Heights--you've read that?"
"And Jane Eyre?"
"Sense and Sensibility?"
He turned and looked gravely at me. "And I suppose you've read these books more than once?"
I nodded and he frowned.
"Read and reread? Many times?"
Once more I nodded, and his frown deepened.
"Since childhood?"
I was baffled by his questions, but compelled by the gravity of his gaze, nodded once again. [...]
"You are suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination. Symptoms include fainting, weariness, loss of appetite, low spirits. While on one level the crisis can be ascribed to wandering about in the freezing rain without the benefit of waterproofing, the deeper cause is more likely to be found in some emotional trauma [...]" [...]
"Treatment is not complicated: eat, rest and take this..."--he made quick notes on a pad, tore out a page and placed it on my bedside table--"and the weakness and fatigue will be gone in a few days." [...]
I reached for the prescription. In a vigorous scrawl, he had inked: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. Take ten pages, twice a day, till end of course. (301-303)
I simply adore the idea of a literary ailment and a doctor sensitive enough to diagnose it, especially when it plays so well into the self- parody typical of the gothic genre.


  1. I didn't totally love The Thirteenth Tale, either but I love that quote! Too funny.

  2. I loved this book. I wouldn't mind rereading it, but that never seems to happen.

  3. very nice review. I too somehow did not enjoy this book very much. I found it too long-drawn and did not have enough of a plot. The atmosphere is great though.