Ok! I know I usually don’t read novels post- 1900 but I did pick this one up. The reviews of the book touted it as a modern day Gothic horror novel in the style of Jane Eyre. I was intrigued. Especially since the book has stayed on the bestseller list for quite some time. As a matter of fact it came back as a bestseller for the Christmas holiday. This review is going to be short because I don’t want to give away any of the plot.
warning: this book is not for the faint of heart
Vida Winter has been hailed as the greatest English author. However no one knows her story. There are at least fourteen stories of her childhood. None of them are the truth. As Winter as aged she has decided to reveal her true story to Margaret Lea, a historian. To prepare, Lea reads her father’s copy of the Thirteen Tales. Only she discovers that there are only Twelve Tales. No one knows what happened to the last tale…
“To look at me now, you would think my birth must have been something special wouldn’t you? Accompanied by strange portents and attended by witches and fairy godmothers. But no. Not a bit of it. In fact, when I was born I was no more than a subplot.”
We are introduced to the Angelfield family. Mathilde died giving birth to Isabelle. At first George Angelfield lost himself in his grief; however, he eventually took charge of his daughter. There seems to be a streak of madness in the family. George Angelfield allowed his household to be run by the whims of his two-year old. His son Charlie, who was nine years Isabelle’s senior, can only be described as a psychopath. The story focuses on the relationship between Charlie and Isabelle. When Charlie is 14 and Isabelle is 5, Charlie runs out of victims to torture so he decides to use his sister. Instead of getting his typical thrill out of hurting people, he’s shocked to find that Isabelle enjoys the torture. One can see that this story is going to become really interesting.
Years pass. Isabelle meets Roland March. Charlie is forced to find substitutes for his unbrotherly obsession with Isabelle out on the lower class women around Angelfield. Isabelle eventually marries Roland. However, she comes back months later as a widow with a pair of twins named Adeline and Emmaline. The housekeeper Missus does the math, clearly Isabelle was carrying more than a bouquet down the aisle. Isabelle ignores her children to spend her days with Charlie.
The story shifts to the twins- Adeline and Emmaline. In true Gothic fashion, a governess is hired for the twins. The governess and the local doctor decide to experiment with “twinness.” Of course it all blows up when it is discovered that the governess and doctor have a tendre for one another. But not before the governess notices something is different about Adeline. Wonder of wonders the governess thinks she has seen a ghost.
After the governess leave, things around Angelfield goes wrong. Charlie disappears. Adeline takes control. John the Dig is killed. Ambrose is sent away because of his improper relationship with Emmaline. A baby is born. Angelfield is burned. Emmaline’s beautiful face is damaged by the fire. Adeline bears an oddly shaped burn in the center of her right hand.
I did like the book. There are a lot of clue scattered throughout the book. I picked up on the clues, but I didn’t understand what it all meant. The point of view was the biggest clue. I liked it- a lot. This one is definitely a page turner. I can’t analyze the book any further or I’ll give the secret a way. But I have already given one giant clue. But I will leave you with this:
“All children mythologize their birth, It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won’t be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.”