Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale

Sleep is my new best friend. 

I used to be frustrated with Sleep.  We weren't on speaking terms before, and I really didn't want to need her, didn't want to spend any time with her.  But now I like her.  I hang out with her earlier and earlier these past few evenings, and it's been wonderful. 

We're buds now.

Which is probably why between that and the drama that manages to pop up in life and shock me out of my normal activities (even when I'm old enough to know better than to not expect it), I haven't spent as much time on reading and blogging.  So for all you disappointed fans out there -- all one-and-a-half of you -- I have just finished The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. 

Okay, well, actually I've just finished it for the second time.  And here's the puzzle pour moi:  Was I in a completely weird place the first time I read this book, or am I in a seriously funky way now?  Because this book did not hit me the same way twice.

Don't get me wrong.  I loved the book the first time and truly enjoyed it the second.  I just hadn't remembered it being so wacky. 

Umm... wacky is really the wrong word.  This book is a bit more esoteric than that.  But if you think your family is a bit off, you've got nothing on the Angelfield family.  Or maybe you do.  In that case, I'm very, very sorry.

Personally, I love reading about people who love to read, which is why I picked up the book in the first place.  The narrator, Margaret, is an wonderfully obsessive reader who is asked to write the biography of the most popular, yet mysterious writer of her day, Vida Winter.  This book centers around family or lack thereof, twinness and separation, secrets and truth. 

I do recommend this book, but it's not the feel-good story of the year.  There is a lot of wading through sadness.  Though, if you are like me, the story is beautiful and will pull you in. 

I really dislike when stories are spoilt for me, and so I'd really rather give too little than too much. 

I will, however, say this:  Diane Setterfield is good with words, and this is very important to me.  I love language and I appreciate good word craftsmanship.  You can usually tell within the first paragraph -- the first sentence if the writer is truly gifted* -- whether a writer knows what he/she is doing and merely telling a story or painting an image.

And while the first line from The Thirteenth Tale isn't a revolutionary one, she did get me with this in the first paragraph both times:

Through the glass in the door it cast a foolscap rectangle of paleness onto the wet pavement, and it was a while I was standing in that rectangle, about to turn my key in the door, that I first saw the letter.  Another white rectangle, it was on the fifth step from the bottom where I couldn't miss it.

It has a lovely sense of rhythm and symmetry and imagery that grabs me from the beginning.  And while she can get a bit gloomy and depressing (and who doesn't like a good gloomy story on the moors sometimes?) Ms. Setterfield does know how to weave a story.

You might want to start it when you're cheerful, though.  Starting it when you're already down may make you not want to get out of bed.

But then maybe I can just lend you my new friend, Sleep.

*See: George Orwell:  It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen; 
Jane Austen:  It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife;
Charles Dickens:  Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show; 
C.S. Lewis:  There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it; 
Leo Tolstoy:  Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way;
I could go on forever.

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