Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I Heart Crumbling Estates

When I was posting about The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters in November, I looked again at the Amazon review of that book, to confirm that it really did have spoilers.  The next time that I went to Amazon, it told me that since I had recently looked at The Little Stranger, I might also like The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.  Now Amazon has led me astray with shaky recommendations in the past, but since The Thirteenth Tale was sitting in my nightstand waiting for me to read it, I checked out the editorial reviews to see what they said.  Based on those reviews, I was a little worried that The Thirteenth Tale would turn out to be an earlier, better version of The Little Stranger that I had somehow missed.  They said that The 13th  was a ghost story, set in a "haunted ruin of a house" in England, and was full of family secrets.  Does that sound a little familiar to you?

After reading The 13th, however, I have to disagree.  The 13th is not a ghost story, nor a mystery, nor a fairy tale, but instead is a crazy blend of the three.  It is certainly set in a crumbling estate in rural England, like The Little Stranger, but where the Ayers family in TLS was eccentric, the Angelfield family in The 13th is mentally ill.  The story teller in The 13th is Margaret Lea, who although she is our narrator, is actually reporting the story that she is hearing as The 13th unfolds.  As in TLS, there is a kindly housekeeper, who understands the family and their problems perhaps better than the family itself does, and a doctor, who races to misdiagnoses.

Margaret hears the story of the Angelfield family when she is hired to write the biography of a reclusive writer who has attained celebrity status.  This writer knows how to keep Margaret and the reader interested by doling out little morsels of truth, which in this case are more interesting than any fiction. 

If you are a fan of a true ghost story, this book may be a disappointment to you.  However, if you liked The Little Stranger, like I did, and want to read something else along those lines, The 13th  is a great find.  And now I have a new "mini-genre" to follow, which I didn't even know I liked three months ago - 20th century stories set in crumbling estates in rural England and the crazy families that inhabit them.

Next Up on CD:  Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
Next Up in Book Form:  Enemies of the People by Kati Marton

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