My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise–she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.
Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.
As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story. In the end, both women have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets. As well as the ghosts that haunt them still.
Once upon a time there was a fairy godmother, but the rest of the time there was none. This story is about one of those other times.
This book is so good for so many reasons!
It has a story within a story, which is so very hard to do and keep the reader interested. You have to devote just as much time to one outer story as you do to the inner or one becomes overshadowed.
I’ve just recently tried my hand at this and I had to give up because I was becoming enamored with my secondary plot. Kudos to Ms. Setterfield for that.
There are really no words for this book, which has become a favorite of mine. It has such a feeling of melancholy, both Margaret and Vida are living lives that are surrounded by books and stories and wonderment, but both are still searching for that elusive – something. They find it in each other. Absolution, resolve, forgiveness – and this happens through the telling of a story. Margaret becomes ensnared in Vida’s life and takes it upon herself to find out what is truth and what is not because even Vida admits that no good story tells the truth.
I was sucked into her story as well and I stayed up all night just to finish it. It was worth it. Even in the end, you are still left wondering…did that really happen?
This book is definitely on my to be read on a rainy day list. There is just enough gloominess and hope to make it one of ‘those’ books, the kinds that find their way into your heart and makes you really wonder if you ever truly know someone.