Thursday, March 01, 2007

Book for a Snowy Day

I read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield when I was home on my snow day. It came to my attention on a couple of book sites, and part of what caught my attention was the cover. It turns out to have been the perfect book for the day. It reminded me of a Du Maurier's Rebecca meets Jane Austen - keeps you turning pages. There’s a great minor character, Mrs. Love, who knits socks and is vexed by a couple of occasions of turning her heels twice. “The second time I turned a heel twice, I was beginning to get old. Kitty and me were sitting by the fireside here, together. It was a year since her husband had died, nearly a year since she’d come to live with me. She was getting so much better, I thought. She’d been smiling more. Taking an interest in things. She could hear his name without welling up. We sat here and I was knitting – a nice pair of bed socks it was, for Kitty, softest lambs’ wool, pink to go with her dressing gown – and she had a book in her lap. She can’t have been looking at it, though, because she said, “Joan, you’ve turned that heel twice.” I was more than half way through the book before I realized the significance of the title. Surely, you will be quicker than I.

Publishers Weekly Review: Former academic Setterfield pays tribute in her debut to Brontë and du Maurier heroines: a plain girl gets wrapped up in a dark, haunted ruin of a house, which guards family secrets that are not hers and that she must discover at her peril. Margaret Lea, a London bookseller's daughter, has written an obscure biography that suggests deep understanding of siblings. She is contacted by renowned aging author Vida Winter, who finally wishes to tell her own, long-hidden, life story. Margaret travels to Yorkshire, where she interviews the dying writer, walks the remains of her estate at Angelfield and tries to verify the old woman's tale of a governess, a ghost and more than one abandoned baby. With the aid of colorful Aurelius Love, Margaret puzzles out generations of Angelfield: destructive Uncle Charlie; his elusive sister, Isabelle; their unhappy parents; Isabelle's twin daughters, Adeline and Emmeline; and the children's caretakers. Contending with ghosts and with a (mostly) scary bunch of living people, Setterfield's sensible heroine is, like Jane Eyre, full of repressed feeling—and is unprepared for both heartache and romance. And like Jane, she's a real reader and makes a terrific narrator. That's where the comparisons end, but Setterfield, who lives in Yorkshire, offers graceful storytelling that has its own pleasures