I had already attempted Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale five times, and not once had I even managed to get 37 pages in. Then, one sleepless night, with a baby snoozing on my shoulder, I picked it up again. The first few pages were as riveting as ever, and then it quickly meandered into the rambling daydream that I remembered.
But I was trapped, so I kept reading. Then something amazing happened: it blossomed. Suddenly, it was four in the morning and I really could have put that baby down any time but that would mean going to bed. Yeah, right. Reading time is precious!
This is a romance in the classic, rather than the Harlequin, sense. High drama and tension run throughout; codes of honour (however distorted) are central. Powerful and compelling characters drive a gripping examination of class, art, devotion and social mores. While radically different in content and perspective, it felt much like a natural successor the great romantic classics through the ages like The Moonstone or The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
Seen in this light, those first 36 pages fit well within this tradition. Moreover, they hold a valuable lesson for those of us in the performing arts: if you characters declare (genuinely) that something is boring or pedantic, then however “authentic” that might be, how the heck do you think your audience feels?!