October 2013: Jasmine Tea and The Thirteenth Tale
Photo by Sarah Cloud Peterson
People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.
--Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
A chilly October morning, a Sunday and the children were settled with breakfast and their own quiet pursuits, so I took early to a cozy armchair read with a hot beverage. Schools implore parents to "set a positive example towards reading." I will step up to the chore.
I return to Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale every year or two, usually in the autumn, usually in October when I'm craving gothics and ghost tales. This one is a suspenseful, dreamy modern gothic mystery. There is light romance and humor, too; Setterfield seems like a kind and empathic writer even amid a dark story. She understands the ecstasy of books and reading -- a powerful theme in the mystery. It's about a famous author who writes stunning, satisfying fiction. Her own story is a mystery, though. She's renowned for spinning exotic but false autobiographies for reporters who interview her. But she's dying, so she decides to tell the truth to a book-loving biographer.
The Thirteenth Tale has been on my carefully curated "keeper" shelves for years, ever since a recommendation from H.N. James. I was moved today to check again whether Setterfield has come out with another book. Eureka! Her second novel is due on November 5, 2013. It's called Bellman & Black, about a Victorian man haunted by a childhood cruelty he's forgotten.