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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Fiction That Examines Fiction

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

Margaret Lea, a reclusive bibliophile whose life has been blighted by the death in infancy of her twin sister, is commissioned to write the biography of Vida Winter, one of the world's most successful novelists. Throughout her career, Miss Winter has refused to divulge the details of her early years but now with the approach of death, she can be silent no longer. It seems that she, too, was once a twin. But seeming cannot be relied upon in this story, as the reader soon begins to discover. Though Miss Winter has pledged to tell the truth, she chooses her words with such care that both her biographer and the reader are puzzled by the inconsistencies in her story until all is made satisfyingly clear at the end.

Diane Setterfield has an eye for detail and there's some fine writing here. It's a meticulously plotted and richly layered novel, filled with allusions to nineteenth century literature - a fiction that examines the nature of fiction itself. Nevertheless, it's over-elaborate and I found myself badly bogged down in the middle. Ms Setterfield is a very good writer but I would have preferred something with a little less head and a little more heart.