The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

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The Independent Culture

This paperback comes with a vast number of plaudits from reviewers plastered all over the front and back covers and flyleaves. I'm sorry, but I don't understand what they are talking about. A family saga with Gothic overtones, dark secrets, lost twins, a tragic fire, a missing manuscript and over-obvious nods to Jane Eyre, Rebecca and The Woman in White, it reads like something a creative writing class might write as a committee, for the sole purpose of coming up with a novel that would suit a book group (and tellingly, there are "Reading Group Study Notes" at the back suggesting topics for discussion).

It's not egregiously bad: the plotting is neat, the disclosures come at well-timed intervals and the writing is competent – although it does occasionally lapse into banality, as in the blinding perception that gardens tend to be more colourful in the daytime than in the night. The real problem is that it seems to be lacking some sort of vitamin, something that would bring it to life. It's a novel that is all too obviously trying to be a novel. Diane Setterfield is clearly a great lover of literature, but on this evidence, she is not a great producer of it.

Orion £6.99