The Thirteenth Tale: Diane Setterfield

★★★★

When I reviewed Bellman & Black, some years ago, several of you urged me to go back and read Diane Setterfield’s earlier novel The Thirteenth Tale. And so I have! You see, I do listen. It just takes me five years… And it was worth the wait, for I thoroughly enjoyed it. Setterfield weaves a modern Gothic tale full of mystery and tragedy, spiced with congenital madness, the crumbling rooms of a remote old house, and twins. Better still, it has a genuine bibliophile as the heroine and a reclusive writer as its enigmatic object. In fact, the whole story is a love letter to the power of fiction, which can sweep us away from the world around us, provide a retreat in hard times, and even transform our own pasts.

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Bellman & Black: Diane Setterfield

★★★½

A Ghost Story

As the clocks go back and the evenings grow colder – and we approach Halloween – it’s definitely time for a spot of Victorian Gothic fiction. I haven’t read Diane Setterfield’s very successful Thirteenth Tale, but I simply couldn’t resist the prospect of her most recent book, Bellman & Black. To my pleasure, it delivered all that it promised and I polished it off in two days. It reminds me, on a smaller scale and in a less ethereal manner, of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. It has the same sense of everyday life set awry by something haunting and eerie, hovering at the corner of your eye; and it has the same sensitivity to the language of the time, giving the book an air of 19th-century authenticity without sacrificing its lively readability.

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