For me, the Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to books and to stories in general. The enigmatic author, Vida Winter, has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself -- all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life.
While this book and its entire premise may seem very simple on the surface, it is anything but. It is a tale of gothic strangeness that weaves an intricate story using simple elements. There is no magic, and there are no mythological creatures found in this story. One of the main reasons I enjoyed this book is that nothing is completely outlandish or beyond the realm of possibility, and yet the story of the Angelfield family becomes so full of intrigue and you only get one piece of the story at a time. You begin to wonder what on earth is going on and you have to keep reading to put the puzzle together and make sense of everything.
One of favorite scenes of the book is when Margaret, the biographer, meets Vida Winter for the first time. You get a glimpse of how spunky Vida still is even as she is ill and dying.
“Politeness. Now there's a poor man's virtue if ever there was one. What's so admirable about inoffensiveness, I should like to know. After all, it's easily achieved. One needs no particular talent to be polite. On the contrary, being nice is what's left when you've failed at everything else. People with ambition don't give a damn what other people think about them.”
One strong theme throughout the book focuses on how we are products of the past and shaped by our family relationships. This is the essential driving force behind the story itself.
“Our lives are so important to us that we tend to think the story of them begins with our birth. First there was nothing, then I was born...Yet that is not so. Human lives are not pieces of string that can be separated out from a knot of others and laid out straight. Families are webs. Impossible to touch one part of it without setting the rest vibrating. Impossible to understand one part without having a sense of the whole.”
This is the best way I can describe my feelings after finishing this book. I liked the book but I was left with my shoulders shrugged and my arms outstretched, thinking “What just happened?” I’m beginning to recognize that this is a sign of good story. I hated the fact that The Thirteenth Tale left me wanting more but I also like the unsettling feeling of unanswered questions. The author took you through the beginning, middle, and end of the story, left you 90 percent satisfied, but also let the smallest of loose ends remain. And that’s okay with me.
“My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with the truth itself. What succor, what consolation is there in the truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails? No. When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don’t expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.”