On Opening The Thirteenth Tale

Other than children’s/young adult fare, I haven’t been able to make much of a dent in the books that I brought with me here to Singapore. Still adjusting to life here, still adjusting to six o’clock being too dark, and half-past seven in the evening still having a few rays of the dying sun. Still adjusting to going home right after work, to no after-office Starbucks, to the general feeling of being alone amidst a lot of people. It is not always lonely, but it is not always home.

I started Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale back home in the Philippines, but put it down for a while to devour other lighter stories like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and the various Nancy Drews I’ve picked up. (Yes, it’s almost cheating my 50 books for 2007!) I’ve been intrigued from the start, from the moment I picked up the book, but I was getting ready for my move then, and had to tear myself away.

I picked it up again now, and am still deciding between going to sleep now (because I am going to wake up early tomorrow and re-start my knee exercises) and staying up and reading through, because then I would get so thoroughly sucked into the story that it will be almost painful to put it down. It’s a magnetic read so far, the type of story that gets me going, that gets me excited.

The paper cover was cream and green: a regular motif of shapes like fish scales formed the background, and two rectangles were left plain, one for the line drawing of a mermaid, the other for the title and author’s name. Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation by Vida Winter.

I locked the cabinet, returned the key and flashlight to their places and climbed the stairs back to bed… I didn’t intend to read. Not as such. A few phrases were all I wanted. Something bold enough, strong enough, to still the words from the letter that kept going around my head. Fight fire with fire, people say. A couple of sentences, a page maybe, and then I would be able to sleep.

…Opening the book, I inhaled. The smell of old books, so sharp, so dry you can taste it.

The prologue. Just a few words.

But my eyes, brushing the first line, were snared.

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. When you get won’t be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.

It was like falling into water.

Yes, this was like falling into water. Somehow, I could almost see myself in Margaret Lea, and even in Vida Winter, even though I haven’t met her. Somehow, I could find myself in these words, in this world. Somehow, I could feel that if I read far enough, if I looked deep enough, I would see myself, I would find myself. The Angela that somehow eludes me, the Angela that I know but don’t know, the Angela that I would have to face.

I’ll let you know if I find her.

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