I’ve just finished reading The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. Two books back I read Blessings, by Anna Quindlen. Two very different books, but I was struck this morning by some eerie similarities.
I would not be utterly shocked to learn that someone had challenged both authors to write a story involving the following:
- An eccentric, isolated, imperious, rich old woman with mother issues who adored a sibling that died and who is reluctant to confront the truth of her life
- An abandoned baby
- A gardener, a housekeeper, and a decaying estate
- A subtle background issue of aberrant sexuality
- A young person who catalyzes change for the old woman and is profoundly changed in the process
In addition to sharing these elements, both books are beautifully written and utterly gripping. And yet, they exist in entirely different atmospheres and worlds.
For one thing, Blessings takes place in America and The Thirteenth Tale in Britain. Blessings breathes the hot, humid air of a New England summer; The Thirteenth Tale shivers in the damp chill of an English winter. The main characters of Blessings are obsessed with social position; those of The Thirteenth Tale are obsessed with books. The Thirteenth Tale is haunted by death from the very beginning; Blessings only comes face to face with death at the end.
If you love Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Woman in White—stories full of eerie happenings, dark secrets, astonishing twists, and thwarted lives—you’ll love The Thirteenth Tale. It will keep you biting your nails until the final chapter, but it does end hopefully for the narrator.
If you prefer a little more light, a somewhat more relaxed pace in a story—but with no lack of a quiet sort of suspense—you might prefer Blessings. The ending isn’t the one I was rooting for, but it is a good end, a place of hope and redemption.
For myself, my taste has always included both ends of the spectrum—the Brontës and Jane Austen, the Gothic and the realistic, the tale spun of exotic silk shot through with moonbeams and the tale woven of good sturdy cloth. I loved both novels. Time will tell which one stays with me the most strongly.