Discussion Guide: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Other Books by Diane Setterfield
- Bellman and Black byISBN: 9781476711959Publication Date: 2013-11-05ONE MOMENT IN TIME CAN HAUNT YOU FOREVER. Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly. It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to have put the whole incident behind him. It was as if he never killed the thing at all. But rooks don't forget . . . Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William's life, his fortunes begin to turn-and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root. In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner. Together, they found a decidedly macabre business. And Bellman & Black is born.
An interview with Diane Setterfield in Cologne, Germany in 2007.
Did you know?
The Thirteenth Tale was made into a TV movie starrring Vanessa Redgrave and released in the UK in December 2013.
1. Much of the novel takes place in two grand estates—Angelfield and then Miss Winter's. How are the houses reflections of their inhabitants?
2. As the story unfolds, we learn that Margaret and Miss Winter are both twins. What else do they have in common?
3. Margaret and her mother are bound by a singular loss—the death of Margaret's twin sister. How has each woman dealt with this loss, and how has it affected her life? If her parents had told her the truth about her twin, would Margaret still be haunted?
4. Books play a major role in this novel. Margaret, for example, sells books for a living. Miss Winter writes them. Most of the important action of the story takes place in libraries. There are stories within stories, all inextricably intertwined. Discuss the various roles of books, stories, and writing in this novel.
5. Miss Winter asks Margaret if she'd like to hear a ghost story—in fact, there seem to be several ghost stories weaving their way through. In what ways is The Thirteenth Tale a classic, gothic novel?
6. Miss Winter frequently changes points of view from third to first person, from "they" to "we" to "I," in telling Margaret her story. The first time she uses "I" is in the recounting of Isabelle's death and Charlie's disappearance. What did you make of this shifting when Margaret points it out on page 204?
7. Compare and contrast Margaret, Miss Winter, and Aurelius—the three "ghosts" of the novel who are also each haunted by their pasts.
8. It is a classic writer's axiom that a symbol must appear at least three times in a story so that the reader knows that you meant it as a symbol. In The Thirteenth Tale, the novel Jane Eyre appears several times. Discuss the appearances and allusions to Jane Eyre and how this novel echoes that one.
9. The story shifts significantly after the death of Mrs. Dunne and John Digence. Adeline steps forward as intelligent, well-spoken, and confident—the "girl in the mists" emerges. Did you believe this miraculous transformation? If not, what did you suspect was really going on?
10. Dr. Clifton tells Margaret that she is "suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination" when he learns that she is an avid reader of novels such as Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Sense and Sensibility. What do you think he means by drawing such a parallel? What other parallels exist between The Thirteenth Tale and classic nineteenth-century literature?
11. When did you first suspect Miss Winter's true identity? Whether you knew or not, looking back, what clues did she give to Margaret (and what clues did the author give to you)?
12. Margaret tells Aurelius that her mother preferred telling "weightless" stories in place of heavy ones, and that sometimes it's better "not to know." Do you agree or disagree?
13. The title of this novel is taken from the title of Miss Winter's first book, Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, a collection of twelve stories with a mysterious thirteenth left out at the last minute before publication. How is this symbolic of the novel? What is the thirteenth tale?
14. When do you think The Thirteenth Tale takes place? The narrator gives some hints, but never tells the exact date. Which aspects of the book gave you a sense of time, and which seemed timeless? Did the question of time affect your experience with the novel?
Reserve a copy
- The Thirteenth Tale byISBN: 9780743298025Reclusive author Vida Winter wants to tell the truth about her enigmatic life and summons biographer Margaret Lea. As Vida tells about her life, Margaret is mesmerized. It 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, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.
- Darling Jim byISBN: 9780805089479A modern gothic novel of suspense that reveals, through their diaries, the story of sisters who fall in love with a beguiling stranger, and of the town that turns a blind eye to his murderous ways.
- The Distant Hours byISBN: 9781439152799A haunting tale of long-buried secrets and the twists of fate. It starts with a letter, lost for half a century and unexpectedly delivered to Edie's mother. The letter leads Edie to Milderhurst Castle. Inside the decaying castle, Edie searches for her mother's past but soon learns there are other secrets hidden in its walls.
- The Lace Reader byISBN: 9780061624773Every gift has a price . . . every piece of lace has a secret. Towner Whitney, the self-confessed unreliable narrator, hails from a family of Salem women who can read the future in the patterns in lace. Now the disappearance of two women is bringing Towner back home to Salem--and is bringing to light the shocking truth about the death of her twin sister.