Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Thirteenth Tale

Several weeks ago, I searched Amazon.com's best books of 2006 trying to find something interesting to read. Pretty high on the list was this book by Diane Setterfield and Miracle in the Andes, so I reserved a copy of both from the local library, along with several others, and these were the first two to become available. For some reason, I choose to read Miracle in the Andes first.

I've tried to read it. I am not a lover of non-fiction. Occasionally, I surprise myself by liking some of it. I appreciate when someone chooses non-fiction for book group because it forces the issue and, like kids with vegetables, sometimes a little nudge is necessary for me.

I read the first 50 pages of Miracle in the Andes. From what I can tell so far, it's well written, intense...kind of exciting. But, it sits on my nightstand, night after night, untouched. I'm tired tonight. I'd rather watch T.V. I just don't feel like reading. But I was wrong. I just don't feel like reading that book!

Finally acknowledging my mental block with reading, I picked up the other book I reserved from the library. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I think it was ranked by Amazon's editors #3 from their Best Books of 2006 list. I knew it was kind of a mystery but that was it. So, how fun when I picked up the book and read this on the back of it:

My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring lke a bear in the chimney? what you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie. - Vida Winter

How appropriate! Yes...I don't want a true story. I want a great big ol' lie! And a good one too!

I don't really consider fiction a lie. I mean, it's entertainment for me. I don't read because I'm a lover of words or sentences or grammar. I notice when those things are lacking, because of course, they contribute to a well-written story, but it's the story itself that attaches me to a book. And this is a great story.

A hugely successful author writes a letter to an unknown, spinster woman with a commission to write her biography. The author, Vida Winter, has never told anyone her real story. Her pen name is made up and with each new novel of hers that is published, interviewers try to expunge her background. With each interview she tells a completely different, obviously made up story. It becomes a rite of passage to interview the great author and report back her latest tall tale. So, her offer, to tell the truth, is a huge deal. One that would be crazy for anyone to turn down. The trouble is, the woman she makes the offer to isn't really interested. Up to that time, she reads almost exclusively old 19th century fiction. She isn't interested at all in living fiction. She has her own reasons, and her own secrets. Mystery #1. And Vida Winter only wants this particular woman to write it. Mystery #2.

After reading the letter, Margaret, the biographer spinster, picks up one of the author's books for the first time, originally called Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, and is immediately drawn in to the story. When she finished the twelfth tale, she turned the page to discover that the book ended without the final thirteenth story. Mystery #3. What is the thirteenth tale? . Feeling drawn to the author for unknown reasons, she accepts the invitation and Vida Winter tells finally tells her story...sort of. Mystery #4.

The entire book sort of throbs with these haunting mysteries. It isn't intense. There is nothing scary about this story. But the truth becomes uncovered in a controlled, rhythmic manner and with each uncovering, a few more mysterious shadows turn up.

I loved it. I don't need to read non-fiction with books like this out there. Phew!

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