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A lucky number Thirteen reasons why readers will enjoy Diane Setterfield's latest novel

It's October, which means it's time for a new pick from The Buffalo News Book Club.

This month, we'll take up "The Thirteenth Tale," a novel by Diane Setterfield.

Below, you'll find 13 reasons you should read "The Thirteenth Tale" this month.

Bet you can't resist...

1) Maybe you are a twin. Or know some twins. "The Thirteeth Tale" is a book with not one but two sets of twins -- both of which have origins that are shrouded in mystery. As the narrator, Margaret Lea unravels the mystery of the older set of twins, she discovers secrets about her own past that change the way she views her life and her family.

2) October can be cloudy and dreary, which means you need a thick doorstop of a novel to get you through the month. Voila: the paperback version of "The Thirteenth Tale" has, count 'em, 432 pages. Which should be just enough.

3) Diane Setterfield, the British author of the book, used to teach 20th-century French literature on the college level. She left teaching because, she told an interviewer a couple of years ago, it did not leave her enough time to read. "The Thirteenth Tale" is her first novel, and brava to her -- it's very good.

4) The reclusive older woman at the heart of the novel is named Vida Winter, which has to be one of the best names for a character ever. (It evokes, yes, the handsome, reclusive hero Maxim de Winter at Manderley in Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca.")

5) In the course of "The Thirteenth Tale," Margaret Lea leaves her father's antiquarian bookshop in London and travels to Vida Winter's crumbling, mouldering estate to meet the older woman, who is a celebrated mystery novelist. (Think Agatha Christie status.) When she arrives, we get that feeling we do in all great literary tales when the narrator enters an imposing, spooky, vaguely frightening home. Echoes of "Jane Eyre," here, and du Maurier again. In any case, it sends chills up your spine.

6) "The Thirteenth Tale" spent weeks on best-seller lists in both the United Kingdom and the States.

7) Setterfield is a Reader's Reader, and her book reflects that. Much of it unfolds in bookshops, libraries and in the words of stories-within-stories. The very reason Margaret meets Vida has to do with narrative: the older woman, after years of lying about her past, has decided to tell her complete life story to the younger woman before her health deteriorates further. She wants to tell all. But does she, or is it just more obfuscation? Margaret isn't at all certain, and so she probes -- to shocking effect.

8) In 2006, Setterfield was quoted on the Barnes & Noble Web site about how that same absorption with books and reading fits into her own life: "It is the experience of reading itself that has been central in my life. The addictive pleasure of abandoning yourself to a book, of losing consciousness of your worries, your body, and your surroundings, to become a ghost haunting other worlds has influenced me in many ways."

9) The hardback version of the novel has awesome, antique-looking endpapers. They are so cool that someone walking by actually complimented the author of this story on them, once.

10) The "thirteenth tale" referenced in the title comes from a short story collection that the fictional Vida Winter once published -- which contained many stories but, to readers' puzzlement, ommitted the 13th.

11) Setterfield's own favorite books include "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers, which she calls "the most perfect book I can remember reading." As a child, she liked "Emil and the Detectives" by Eric Kastner.

12) Setterfield's novel became the subject of a bidding war, in manuscript, among various publishing houses in Great Britain.

13) And the very best reason to read the book, of course: the quality of writing in "The Thirteenth Tale" is very fine.

"It was November," the book begins. "Although it was not yet late, the sky was dark when I turned into Laundress Passage. Father had finished for the day, switched off the shop lights and closed the shutters; but so I would not come home to darkness he had left on the light over the stairs to the flat. Through the glass in the door it cast a foolscap rectangle of paleness onto the wet pavement, and it was while I was standing in that rectangle, about to turn my key in the door, that I first saw the letter."

What does the letter contain?

Pick the novel up -- and continue the tale for yourself.

As always, we'd like to hear your thoughts on Setterfield's novel, and on other selections you think the News Book Club ought to read. E-mail your thoughts to: Or send them by mail to The Book Club, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.


The Thirteenth Tale

By Diane Setterfield

Atria Books hardback, $26

Washington Square Press paperback, $15


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