Diane Setterfield masterfully weaves together a gothic tale of suspense, mystery, and loss. The novel follows the story of two women, one a reclusive author, Vida Winter, who has weaved together so many stories about her life no one knows the truth and the other a young biographer, Margaret Lea, who has been chosen by Winter to take down her true story before Winter succumbs to old age and various ailments plaguing her.
Winter’s tale unfolds mainly in flashback, recounting her eccentric upbringing and the tragedy that tore her family apart. The reader is left to figure out which character Winter is in her tale. Meanwhile, Lea is forced to look to her own past, the loss of her twin and the resulting withdrawal from day-to-day life of her mother. She tries to examine how it has shaped who she is and how she can move forward with her own life. Themes explored include identity, loss, reconciliation, death, and twins.
The Thirteenth Tale was originally released in Australia as an adult novel, but subsequently was released in the United States as a novel targeted to young adults. In 2007, it won an Alex Award, which is annually given to ten books written for adults that have a special appeal to young adults.