I was first acquainted with The Thirteenth Tale when I won a contest on author Mindy McGinnis’s blog, Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire. The prize was a book of my choice, and Mindy (a school librarian by day) helpfully suggested several titles, including this one. Billed as “a classic gothic,” I was a little nervous that it might be Victoria Holt-like, but after checking it out on Amazon.com and Goodreads, I decided to risk it.
Margaret Lea works in her father’s antique book shop, emotionally isolated and obsessed to a fairly unhealthy degree with her dead identical twin. Vida Winter is a reclusive famous writer, emotionally isolated and obsessed to a fairly unhealthy degree with her own dead identical twin. In her dotage and facing a terminal illness, Vida has finally decided to share her mysterious life story, and she wants Margaret to be the one to write it down. Off on the moors (okay, that much was stereotypical), Margaret is fascinated by Vida’s twisted tale, but echoes of her own life story inevitably start to resonate. Shadows and foreshadows of Jane Eyre, a mystery of birth, and twins who just won’t stay dead grip the reader until the last few pages, where the author takes great (and satisfying) pains to wrap up every little detail. I couldn’t put it down.
Maybe I was just tired (it was four-thirty in the morning when I finished the book), but even with the care that the author took to tie up loose ends, there was one detail that remained unexplained for me. Whose initials were IAR? Not whose I thought they would be, which begs the question: Was it a typo, or was Emmeline a serial diary thief? If you read it, I’d be interested to know your thoughts.
Thank you, Mindy, good pick.
Layinda’s Blog Rating: ¶¶¶¶¶
Dodie Smith is probably best known for writing One Hundred and One Dalmatians. I didn’t even know her for that, until seeing an author’s online bio that listed I Capture the Castle as a favorite. Out of curiosity, I looked it up on Amazon and saw that the book was recommended by JK Rowling, so to the library I went.
First published in 1949, the novel was written as the journal entries of a seventeen-year-old girl living in post-WWII England. It is a fascinating reflection of the times, as well as a good coming-of-age story.
Eeking out a life of poverty in a once grand castle with a one-book-wonder of a father, an eccentric young stepmother, a younger brother, the orphaned teenage son of their former housekeeper and assorted dogs and cats, two sisters wonder if things will ever be different. Then the wealthy Cotton boys move in just down the road, and things are never the same again.
Aside from enjoying the writing style, I was intrigued by the subplot of the main character’s spiritual journey. It was so subtle that I didn’t even realize it was a subplot until practically the middle of the book, but I found myself watching for it, and was not displeased. The big question that kept me hooked though, was, “What the heck is the deal with Father?”
Some parts of the story made me laugh out loud, others seemed a little melodramatic, but all was from a very “seventeen” way of seeing the world. I came away from the novel wondering if it would be more enjoyed by a teen reader or by an older one who can look back at that age and smile. I think probably both. A very enjoyable book!
Many, many times when I have suggested titles for students in their later years (by which I mean high school), I have gotten the, “Oh, I read that in fifth grade,” comment. It is frequently accompanied by the vaguely superior attitude that tends to distinguish a precocious reader.
In response, I have this to say: Reading something as a child is not the same as reading it in high school (or later). Yes, the words are the same, the characters are the same, and the plot is the same, but you, dear reader, are not.
The Chronicles of Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis, is a classic example of this. Easily digested as a fairy tale in one’s early years, in the hands of a teenager, it can boggle the mind with its innuendo and double meaning. So can The Hobbit. And Watership Down. And practically every other book not exclusively intended for the younger crowd.
Even when perfectly capable of understanding the words and following a complex plot, the preadolescent reader (even a gifted one) just doesn’t have the maturity to recognize the nuance and subtlety embedded in most literature.
Think I’m wrong? Dust one off and read it again.
In the throes of the end of the school year, I was unexpectedly inundated with a lot of great new (at least to me) titles that I stoically forbade myself to read until summer vacation. As usual, my reading list is a tad eclectic, but so far, so good. I’ll probably be posting reviews of most of them, so here’s a preview:
I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith
The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
by Lauren Willig
by Laure Halse Anderson
The Thirteenth Tale
by Diane Setterfield
School of Fear
by Gitty Daneshvari
by Kirk Franklin
State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett
by Jane Smiley
by Maeve Binchy–
For this last installment of The Best of the Blog (next week I will start writing new posts again), I was torn between one that had a large number of visitors the first time around, and one that I wrote when the blog was young and not many people saw it. Then I thought, “Why not both?”
• It Was the Worst of Times
• Scrabbling for Success: 10 Helpful Hints for the Querying Process
Memorial Day usually makes us think of loved ones whom we’ve lost in service to our country, but the United States rests on the bones of many from previous generations who have no one left to mourn. Today’s Best of the Blog is dedicated to Howard Brewer, 1898-1918.
The Ultimate Sacrifice