Published: September 2006 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Source: my audiobook copy was bought at my local library sale
Publisher's Summary: Margaret Lea works in her father's antiquarian bookshop where her fascination for the biographies of the long-dead has led her to write them herself. She gets a letter from one of the most famous authors of the day, the mysterious Vida Winter, whose popularity as a writer has been in no way diminished by her reclusiveness. Until now, Vida has toyed with journalists who interview her, creating outlandish life histories for herself - all of them invention. Now she is old and ailing, and at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. Her letter to Margaret is a summons.
Somewhat anxiously, the equally reclusive Margaret travels to Yorkshire to meet her subject - and Vida starts to recount her tale. It is one of gothic strangeness featuring the March family; the fascinating, devious and wilful Isabelle and the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline.
Margaret is captivated by the power of Vida's storytelling. But as a biographer she deals in fact not fiction, and she doesn't entirely trust Vida's account. She goes to check up on the family, visiting their old home and piecing together their story in her own way. What she discovers on her journey to the truth is for Margaret a chilling and transforming experience.
My Thoughts: The Omaha Bookworms read this one a few years ago and none of them ever particularly gushed about it so, although I've had the book for some time, I didn't get around to "reading" it until I picked up the audiobook. Maybe the Bookworms should have listened to this one because the audio version is one I will definitely be recommending.
Biana Amato and Jill Tanner take on the reading duties in this one, one reading the parts set in the present time as Margaret Lea's voice and one reading the parts set in the past as Vida Winter tells her story. They are both remarkable good, helped, for me, by their British accents. I'm a sucker for a proper British accent!
The story itself was a little uneven for me. I was definitely more interested in Vida Winter's story and this was were nearly all of the action and tension in the book happened. Without Margaret's story as well, though, the book would not have had the balance it needed. Things slowed down in the middle of the book where a greater part of the story was Margaret's, but all of that was necessary later in the story. I had, to an extent, figured out the big secret of the book fairly early on but that didn't dampen my enthusiasm for the wild ride to the finish.
Setterfield's writing is mesmerizing and atmospheric, reminding me of Charlotte Bronte (clearly intentional as Bronte's Jane Eyre appears repeatedly in the story) and Sarah Waters. It's not just the stories of Margaret and Vida that made me so fond of this book, it was Setterfield's love of books that shone through frequently. In a passage about how a book stays with you after you finish it, in an chapter where Vida makes Margaret imagine what she might do to save the books she loves from being forever destroyed, and in this paragraph where Vida explains what it means to be a writer, Setterfield lures her readers into not just this book, but all books.
" For nearly sixty years I have eavesdropped with impunity on the lives of people who do not exist. I have peeped shamelessly into hearts and bathroom closets. I have leaned over shoulders to follow the movements of quills as they write love letters, wills and confessions. I have watched as lovers love, murderers murder, and children play their make-believe. Prisons and brothels have opened their doors to me; galleons and camel trains have transported me across sea and sand; centuries and continents have fallen away at my bidding. I have spied upon the misdeeds of the mighty and witnessed the nobility of the meek. I have bent so low over sleepers in their beds that they might have felt my breath on their faces. I have seen their dreams."
I've waited a long time to read this book. I'm glad about that for two reasons. It allowed me the time to come across the audio version and, now that I have discovered I want to read something more by Setterfield, it means I don't have nearly as long to wait as others have had to wait.