The Thirteenth Tale

Margaret Lea never imagined the outcome when she, as a devoted modern, bibiophile, living with her parents on top of their book store, wrote a biographical essay, The Fraternal Muse on the Landier brothers, for a hardback collection of essays on writing and the family in the nineteenth century. She was a diletante, talented amateur in the company of professional and academic writers.

A is for Austen, B is for Brontë, C is for Charles and D is for Dickens. That is how she learned to read and writ

Margaret Lea never imagined the outcome when she, as a devoted modern, bibiophile, living with her parents on top of their book store, wrote a biographical essay, The Fraternal Muse on the Landier brothers, for a hardback collection of essays on writing and the family in the nineteenth century. She was a diletante, talented amateur in the company of professional and academic writers.A is for Austen, B is for Brontë, C is for Charles and D is for Dickens. That is how she learned to read and write. The book store was her everything.The second floor was her favorite place of discovery. It was where the Nineteenth-century literature was found: biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, diaries and letters of people gone a long time ago. And by opening and reading a few pages of all the books in the shelves, looking for something missing in herself, she gave all these people a chance to be alive again, even if it was only through their words. Being dead could be very lonely, she thought. Reading could be dangerous as well. She learnt that lesson early in life when she was sitting on a wall, reading, and fell off when she relaxed her muscles too much. From then on she always chose a secure, safe position to sit down when opening a book.

She had to be with the deceased. It was an urge, a need, an instinct.

P. 19: People disappear when they die. Their voices, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humour, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is kind of magic.
As a ten-year-old, she discovered an old tin underneath a bed which changed her life forever. She discovered the reason why she wanted to give a voice to the deceased.
P. 9: There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner.
A letter from Britain's most famous author, Vida Winter, invited her to write the author's biography.

All through her life, Vida Winter entertained journalists with various versions of her life story. None of them were ever the same.

P.5: I have nothing against people who love truth. Apart from the fact that they make dull companions. Just

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so long as they don't start on about storytelling and honesty the way some of them do. Naturally that annoys me. Provided they leave me alone, I won't hurt them.

And now, suddenly after all these years, she wanted Margaret Lea, in particular, to write down the real truth - the one story she could never share, the story that needed to come alive for the dead to rest in peace...
P. 66: The story is not only mine; it is the story of Angelfield. Angelfield the village. Angelfield the house. And the Angelfied family itself. George and Mathilda; their children, Charlie and Isabelle; Isabelle's children, Emmeline and Adeline. Their house, their fortunes, their fears. And their ghost. One should always pay attention to ghosts...
The biography turned out to be an elongated, painful confession.
How many times have I gone back to the border of memory and peered into the darkness beyond? But it is not only memories that hover on the border there. There are all sorts of phantamasgoria that inhabit that realm. The nightmares of a lonely child. Fairytales appropriated by a mind hungry for story. The fantasies of an imaginative little girl anxious to explain to herself the inexplicable. Whatever story I may have discovered on the frontier of forgetting, I do not pretend to myself that it is the truth.'

'All children mythologize their birth.'

Margaret Lea became more than just a biographer.
"I'm going to tell you a story about twins" Miss Winter said that first night in her library. Words that with their unexpected echo of my own story attached me irresistibly to hers."
She needed to become Sherlock Holmes to unravel the haunted history of the old mansions and its inhabitants. In the process, her own life story would entwine with that of Miss Winter's, and in one moment of vertiginous, kaleidoscopic bedazzlement, she would finally take the fragmented and the broken and mend it, tidy it up and put it in order. The chaos and clutter would be banished, doubt will be replaced with certainty, shadows with clarity, lacunae with substance. Everything was put in place before the wolf came to collect, but only because the diary of the governess, miss Hester Barrow , was discovered...Finally, The Thirteenth Tale could be told: the final, the famous, the unfinished story. But it would be Vida Winter herself who wrote it. Although she was the only one who could bring the deceased alive again, Miss Margaret Lea was the only person who understood where it was coming from.

COMMENTS. It is certainly one of the most mesmerizing and gripping tales I have read in a very long time. And one of the best in the suspense thriller genre, for sure. While reading the book, I was constantly thinking about Manderley, the mansions, in Rebecca(Daphne Du Maurier). The gothic elements in Jane Eyre(Charlotte Brontë) - which features very strongly in the narrative, changed this book into a modern version of the old classics, such as The Woman In White( Wilkie Collins); Wuthering Heights(Emily Brontë); Rebecca(Daphne Du Maurier), and The Turn Of The Screw (Henry James).

I simply cannot recommend this book high enough. A story of books and haunted houses. What a fabulous combination. ;-)

There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. - You have been warned!

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Category: Review

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