Sunday, March 8, 2009

First Chapter: The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, is about the conscientious nature of telling stories, of weaving words together in a powerful way, of creating fiction and how that relates to telling lies. At least, that's what I gather from the first chapter, a mere nine pages.

The main character is Margaret Lea, an avid reader who works as amateur bibliographer and as an employee in her father's bookstore. Vida Winter is England's celebrated author who, as some say, has sold more copies of her books than the Bible. No one knows anything about Vida; nothing "true" anyway, for in her interviews Vida prefers to make-up stories, thinking people would prefer to hear those rather than the truth about her life. But, in her old age, the idea of telling the "truth" about her life has taken ahold of her, and she wants to tell her story to Margaret.

Vida Winter has a good point; people, more often than not, are more interested in the lies we tell, because lies are often fantastic tales that are nowhere near what our simple reality provides. (This idea, particularly, is something that really interests me, for a variety of reasons; and something I try to explore in some of my own writing).

With this first chapter of the novel, these ideas outweigh the characters. While we know near to nothing about Vida's true life, other than what little Margaret has surmised through Vida's letter to her, we don't know all that much yet about Margaret yet either, other than the fact that she has a love affair with books and is interested in discovering what authors are thinking as they write.

So far, the ideas are not embodied within the characters themselves but espoused as being of either of Vida or Margaret's mind. I'm interested to see how these ideas are fleshed out precisely; will they continue to exist outside of the characters, merely as a discussion topic between the two women? Or will the two characters somehow be examples of these ideas that seem so important to both Vida and Margaret?


liz fenwick said...

I absolutely adored this book and the launguage it used :-)

Liz S said...

Liz, I did too! It was a fascinating read. A review will be posted soon. Thanks for stopping by!