My book club, The Eclectic Bookworms, met last weekend at Novel Places to discuss our September pick, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (check out my review, which contains a non-spoiler plot summary). I’m going to recap our discussion here, and if you’ve read the book, please feel free to weigh in. If you haven’t read the book, beware of spoilers!!
Most of the book club members liked The Thirteenth Tale, a story with gothic undertones about a young biographer, Margaret Lea, tasked with taking down the life story of a famous eccentric writer, Vida Winter, who is known for not telling the truth when asked about her past. Three of us (including myself) really enjoyed it, a couple liked it overall, and my husband thought it was just okay. Unfortunately, having to work overtime during the last couple of weeks prevented him from finishing the book, but even he admits that this one wasn’t his usual fare.
Some of us grew tired of the extraneous details, like paragraphs about sharpening pencils and the curl of the pencil shavings, but those of us who really enjoyed the book admitted that these details also enabled us to really picture the scenes in our minds. One member was frustrated at the number of references to Jane Eyre (29 in all, according to his Kindle), while I had to admit that other than the devastating fire that changed Vida’s life forever, I was too engrossed in figuring out the mystery to catch all the symbolism.
We discussed whether a writer as famous as Vida Winter would turn to an amateur biographer to tell her story, and most of us agreed that Vida is eccentric enough (with one member saying she reminds her of Joyce Carol Oates) and was more concerned about Margaret’s understanding of the sibling relationship than her experience as a biographer. Besides, as another member pointed out, what famous biographer would put up with Vida’s demands, particularly her insistence that Margaret not ask any questions during the telling of her tale?
We also talked about whether Margaret was a necessary plot device or whether Vida’s story within the story could have stood on its own, with most of us agreeing with the former; how the thirteenth tale, when it was finally unearthed, was a bit anticlimactic because we’d already heard the story; and how most of us didn’t buy the degree to which Margaret was haunted by the twin she never knew. Some of us were infuriated by Margaret’s decision regarding the publication of Vida’s story, and some of us thought the scene at the end with Margaret’s twin was cheesy. Another topic that came up was whether Vida actually told the truth this time around, and we discussed the importance of truth in storytelling…and I surprised myself by remembering Tim O’Brien’s piece about telling a true war story in The Things They Carried.
The Thirteenth Tale was the last book in the club’s first go-round, and I’m just thrilled the club has stayed together long enough to complete a cycle. Of the books we’ve read so far, I’d have to say City of Thieves by David Benioff was my favorite, followed by The Thirteenth Tale. Stay tuned for my wrap up of our October pick, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I feel like I’m the only person who hasn’t read it yet, so I can’t wait!
If you’re in a book club, what’s the best book you’ve discussed so far?
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.