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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« McCall Smith, Alexander: Portuguese Irregular Verbs | Main | Hauser, Melanie Lynne: Super Mom Saves the World »

Setterfield, Diane: The Thirteenth Tale

  

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Atria Books © 2006, 406 pages [amazon]
4.5 stars

Vida Winter is an enigmatic, bestselling author who has told the story of her life innumerable times over the years but never truthfully--until, her health failing, she determines to confide all in a certain Margaret Lea. Margaret has spent her life absorbing the contents of her father's bookstore, and Setterfield lingers over the details of Margaret's life in books, pausing to explain even the economics of her father's business. Setterfield tells us also of the tragedy that has been the singular fact of Margaret's life, that her twin sister died shortly after their birth. Margaret's life is quiet and reclusive, but she has contributed to the world of letters herself in a small way, having written a handful of biographical pamphlets, studies of ordinary lives. It is one of these which attracts Ms. Winter's interest.

[INSET TEXT: Winter's story is filled with sadism and incest, haunted lives in a decaying mansion--Angelfield Hall--the truth about its inhabitants hidden from the world.] Margaret's story in the present frames the tale that Winter tells her over months, the initial, quiet chapters yielding to something nightmarish and ugly. Winter's story is filled with sadism and incest, haunted lives in a decaying mansion--Angelfield Hall--the truth about its inhabitants hidden from the world. Winter's story, too, has to do with twins, Adeline and Emmaline, inseperable from one another and neither of them quite right in the head. There is a mystery in Winter's story, or a series of them, and I'd be shocked if any reader should guess what really happened at Angelfield the night that changed Vida Winter's life.

I was not initially excited by The Thirteenth Tale, though I was impressed at the languorous pace with which its author dwells on the details of Margaret's life. In its early chapters the book seems almost a 19th-century product in that Setterfield is not afraid to take her time with it. And in fact the story has a timelessness to it: there are cars and telephones in Margaret's present but apparently no computers; it is difficult to be very specific about its temporal setting. The story Vida Winter tells Margaret, meanwhile, is initially offputting because of its violence. But Setterfield has woven an intricate story which, if slow to start, becomes downright gripping by mid-book. One finds in it also the occasional, beautifully-wrought passage:

"With a bit more imagination they might have been able to leap the bounds of their own expectations; they might have recognized their feelings for what they were: love of the deepest and most respectful kind. In another day, another culture, he might have asked her to be his wife and she might have said yes. At the very least, one can imagine that some Friday night after their fish and mash, after their fruit pie and custard, he might have taken her hand--or she his--and they might have led each other in bashful silence to one or other of their beds. But the thought never entered their heads. So they became friends, the way old married couples often do, and enjoyed the tender loyalty that awaits the lucky on the other side of passion, without ever living the passion itself."

My one reservation with Setterfield's book has to do with Margaret's obsession with her dead twin sister, the intensity of which I thought highly implausible. But it hardly matters. The Thirteenth Tale is a book that will leave its mark on you.

Review summary: Vida Winter is an enigmatic, bestselling author who has told the story of her life innumerable times over the years but never truthfully--until, her health failing, she determines to confide all in a certain Margaret Lea. Margaret's life is quiet and reclusive, but she has contributed to the world of letters herself, having written a handful of biographical pamphlets. It is one of these which attracts Ms. Winter's interest. Margaret's story in the present frames the tale that Winter tells her, one filled with sadism and incest, haunted lives in a decaying mansion, the truth about its inhabitants hidden from the world. Setterfield has woven an intricate story which, if slow to start, becomes downright gripping by mid-book. One finds in it also the occasional, beautifully-wrought passage. The Thirteenth Tale is a book that will leave its mark on you.

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Book-blog.com reviews by Debra Hamel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Comments

1.

Hi Debra, great review - I'm really interested to see what I think now that I've read a couple of blogger's reviews. It seems it's the style of writing that appeals to a certain type reader and can leave others- less inclined to enjoy that type of writing, frustrated. I'll be digging into it soon - thanks for the info.

2.

Thanks, Brenda! I'll be curious to see what you think.




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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.