I have a fairly addictive personality when it comes to most things in life – I can never have just one chocolate biscuit, if I find a pair of jeans that fit (a rarity), I buy them in three colours, when I hear a song I like for the first time, I have it on repeat for at least a week. The same applies to my reading method. If I find a writer I like, I’ll read everything they’ve had published. It started with Enid Blyton, before progressing to Ann M Martin and Francine Pascal (of The Babysitter Club and Sweet Valley High fame respectively) through to Shakespeare, Joanne Harris and Oscar Wilde. And as this type of reader, there is nothing quite so frustrating as finding a book you love, only to discover it’s the sole publication by the author.
Which is precisely how I felt having finished The Thirteenth Tale by former teacher Diane Setterfield.
The novel tells the story of biographer Margaret Lea, daughter of an antiquarian book dealer, who is asked to complete the last wish of gravely ill novelist Vida Winter by penning her biography. Wanting to find out more about a woman whose books she has never read, Margaret finds a copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, which, confusingly, contains just twelve stories. And so, intrigued, she fulfills Vida’s final request and in doing so becomes immersed in a tangled and troubling history, forcing her to confront ghosts of her own.
The Thirteenth Tale is a composition of much that I love about reading – a gothic undertone with Victorian sensibility, themes of identity and a gripping plot. The perfect tale for book lovers far and wide, The Thirteenth Tale will undoubtedly reawaken a love of books in all those who read it.
I’m generally of the belief that one shouldn’t watch a film without reading the book first, and as a stickler for habit it was only recently that I found myself reading Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal, despite having already seen the screen adaptation.
Way’s Bookshop in Henley, a traditional secondhand and antiquarian bookshop is situated on the corner of Friday Street and is my favourite kind of place. Intimate and cosy with shelves upon shelves of books, I spent a heavenly hour rifling through their impressive selection before coming across Notes on a Scandal. I remembered enjoying the film, and finding Judi Dench’s character rather disturbing but as it had been a while since I’d seen it, I had only a vague recollection of how the plot concluded and thus happily parted with a mere pound for the paperback. Later that day, armed with my favourite accompaniment to a book – a big mug of hot, sweet, tea, I began reading and within twenty-four hours I had finished.
The plot follows the exploits of Sheba Hart as she begins an extra-marital affair with one of her pupils, while simultaneously dealing with an intense, creepy female colleague – Barbara Covett. The characters are beautifully written; Covett’s especially so, whose dependancy on Sheba and numerous idiosyncrasies really her to life.
The book is incredibly fast-paced with an impending sense of doom from start to finish that leaves the reader wanting more. If you’re looking for a compelling page turner or a dark tale that will get you out of a reading rut, few will suffice quite as well as Notes on a Scandal.
I owe a lot to Daphne Du Maurier’s most treasured novel; it was Rebecca, after all, that begun my quest to read the Top 100 BBC Reads. I had just graduated and was interning at a publisher’s in London while still living in Brighton. Browsing the shelves at the Jubilee Library I came across Rebecca and was immediately enticed by the front cover. It depicted a gated drive leading to a sinister looking house surrounding by shadows. And according to a sticker on the sleeve of the book, it was one of the Top 100 BBC Reads. And so it began, the most famous of openings: “Last night I dreamt of Manderly…”
The story is set in Du Maurier’s native Cornwall and sees the protagonist, whose name we never find out, marry the esteemed Maxim De Winter, widow of the infamous Rebecca, who remains very much a constant theme throughout the book.
Du Maurier’s prose is so beautifully descriptive, one really can imagine Manderly in all its glory: the forbidden wing, the stormy sea views; the opulent parties. The characters are equally tangible and Mrs Danvers in particular is as much a part of the house as the very bricks and mortar that built it. The plot is sinister and gripping, right until the very last scene and the climatic finish.
Reading Rebecca sparked a love sparked a love for Du Maurier’s skilled and atmospheric prose and awoke a fondness for Cornwall’s potent nostalgia. I have gone on to read a number of Daphne Du Maurier’s other novels, none of which have been quite so esteemed as Rebecca, despite their equally remarkable plots and characters. Favourites include Frenchman’s Creek and The Scapegoat – both of which I will go on to write about in this blog. Du Maurier really is one of the best writers this country has to offer and I would highly recommend her to anyone.