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1 The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield Discussion questions used at SPL -- July Have you ever read any gothic mysteries Daphne DuMaurier, Phyllis Whitney? Did this bring back memories if you had? 2. What do you think makes a gothic novel a gothic? What are the requirements? A spooky house? A faithful housekeeper? A ghost? A handsome doctor? A hidden family member? 3. How would you classify this story? Romance? Mystery? Just a story? 4. Which intrigued you most - the characters? The story? The setting? 5. Early in the novel, Margaret explains, I read old novels. The reason is simple: I prefer proper endings. Marriages and deaths, noble sacrifices and miraculous restorations, tragic separations and unhoped-for reunions, great falls and dreams fulfilled; these, in my view, constitute an ending worth the wait. At their first meeting, Vida Winter makes Margaret promise not to ask any questions or jump ahead through her story. The Thirteenth Tale itself is structured into three parts Beginnings, Middles, and Endings plus one. Why do you think the author included another Beginning at the conclusion? Did the story end for you there? 6. The time was purposely vague definitely pre-computers and modern technology. When do you think this was set? Why do you think there were never any clues to help the reader mark the year? Could a good gothic be set in our time? 7. Why do you think Margaret accepted the challenge of writing Vida s biography? 8. Why did Vida choose her as her biographer? 9. Vida offered up a ghost story to entice Margaret to stay... who were the ghosts in this tale? Who were the haunted? 10. When Vida started telling her story, did you believe her? Did Margaret? 11. The idea of twins is a big part of the story - the close relations of Adeline and Emmeline and the lost relationship between Margaret and Eva. Have you witnessed some of the twinness shown in the book? Did the relationships ring true for you? 12. The twins parents - Charles and Isabelle - were something! Did we learn enough about them to understand why they turned out the way they did? Who was using whom in that relationship? 13. Who do you think the father of the twins was Isabelle s husband or Charlie? 14. How were mothers portrayed in this book? 15. Why do you think Margaret s mother was the way she was? Why do you think Margaret s sister was never talked about? Wouldn t that have been healthier for all involved? 16. Why do you think the situation in the big house was able to go on without interference? 17. What would you have done if you were a villager? 18. Were you able to solve the mystery of the third little girl? What wrong paths did the author take you down before you reached the solution?

2 19. What did you think of the nurse, Hester? What about her relationship with the doctor? 20. Were they effective in their treatment of the twins? Did they care about them or did they see them as only an experiment? 21. Did you feel as though Hester was using the doctor for ulterior motives? 22. What did you think when Hester first met that mysterious boy in the garden? Did you catch any clues as to the real identity? 23. After John the Dig and Mrs. Dunne die, a lot changes. Especially Adeline she steps up and takes charge. What did you make of this change? What suspicions did it raise? 24. When did you first suspect who Vida Winters was? How often did you change your mind? Looking back at the story, what clues were there directing you to the answer? 25. After we learned the truth behind the fire, which twin do you think was saved? 26. Books played an important part of this story... especially Jane Eyre. If you ve read the book or seen the movie, what were the similarities in this book to that one? 27. What did you think of Aurelius story? Was it a bit much or did it help fill in any gaps in the story? 28. Were you surprised by the doctor showing up at Margaret s bookstore? Were there hints of a relationship growing? 29. Which character did you relate to the most? Vida? Margaret? 30. Were you satisfied with the way the story ended?

3 General discussion questions For the person who chose the book What made you want to read it? What made you pick it for the book club? Did it live up to your expectations? How is the book structured? First person? Third person? Flashbacks? Narrative devices? Do you think the author did a good job with it? How would you describe the author s writing style? Concise? Flowery? How is language used in this book? Read aloud a passage that really struck you. How does that passage relate to the book as a whole? How effective is the author s use of plot twists? Were you able to predict certain things before they happened? Did the author keep you guessing until the end? Did the book hold your interest? How important is the setting to the story? Did you feel like you were somewhere else? Did the time setting make a difference in the story? Did the author provide enough background information for you to understand the setting and time placement? Which is stronger in the book the characters or the plots? Would you recommend this book to someone else? Why? And to whom?

4 The Thirteenth Tale Discussion Questions take from ReadingGroupGuides.com 1. Much of the novel takes place in two grand estates --- Angelfield and then Miss Winter s. How are the houses reflections of their inhabitants? 2. As the story unfolds, we learn that Margaret and Miss Winter are both twins. What else do they have in common? 3. Margaret and her mother are bound by a singular loss --- the death of Margaret s twin sister. How has each woman dealt with this loss, and how has it affected her life? If her parents had told her the truth about her twin, would Margaret still be haunted? 4. Books play a major role in this novel. Margaret, for example, sells books for a living. Miss Winter writes them. Most of the important action of the story takes place in libraries. There are stories within stories, all inextricably intertwined. Discuss the various roles of books, stories, and writing in this novel. 5. Miss Winter asks Margaret if she d like to hear a ghost story --- in fact, there seem to be several ghost stories weaving their way through. In what ways is The Thirteenth Tale a classic, gothic novel? 6. Miss Winter frequently changes points of view from third to first person, from they to we to I, in telling Margaret her story. The first time she uses I is in the recounting of Isabelle s death and Charlie s disappearance. What did you make of this shifting when Margaret points it out on page 204? 7. Compare and contrast Margaret, Miss Winter, and Aurelius --- the three ghosts of the novel who are also each haunted by their pasts. 8. It is a classic writer s axiom that a symbol must appear at least three times in a story so that the reader knows that you meant it as a symbol. InThe Thirteenth Tale, the novel Jane Eyre appears several times. Discuss the appearances and allusions to Jane Eyre and how this novel echoes that one. 9. The story shifts significantly after the death of Mrs. Dunne and John Digence. Adeline steps forward as intelligent, well-spoken, and confident --- the girl in the mists emerges. Did you believe this miraculous transformation? If not, what did you suspect was really going on? 10. Dr. Clifton tells Margaret that she is suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination when he learns that she is an avid reader of novels such as Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Sense and Sensibility. What do you think he means by drawing such a parallel? What other parallels exist between The Thirteenth Tale and classic 19th century literature?

5 11. When did you first suspect Miss Winter s true identity? Whether you knew or not, looking back, what clues did she give to Margaret (and what clues did the author give to you)? 12. Margaret tells Aurelius that her mother preferred telling weightless stories in place of heavy ones, and that sometimes it s better not to know. Do you agree or disagree? 13. The title of this novel is taken from the title of Miss Winter s first book,thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, a collection of twelve stories with a mysterious thirteenth left out at the last minute before publication. How is this symbolic of the novel? What is the thirteenth tale? 14. When do you think The Thirteenth Tale takes place? The narrator gives some hints, but never tells the exact date. Which aspects of the book gave you a sense of time, and which seemed timeless? Did the question of time affect your experience with the novel?

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