Let’s start with the TL;DR because this is going to get long – this book was disappointing on almost every level, a pale and inconsequential shadow of greater forebears. The author seems to love literature and reading at least, but the way she describes it comes across by turns snobbish and… well, basic, like she’s writing a syllabus for a lit appreciation 101 course. The mysteries are either impenetrable or heavily foreshadowed. It wasn’t entirely unenjoyable, but it was one of the least enjoyable books I’ve read in a while.First, the good. The house that serves as setting for a good chunk of the book is a character unto itself, falling slowly and steadily into decay, offering a surprisingly claustrophobic atmosphere given what a huge house it is. If I’d gotten more out of the rest of the book, I might have tried to piece together a comparison between the rotting of the house and the rotting of the family, the closing off of rooms and the closing off of the characters’ relationships to the outside world. But I suspect such an analysis would be a waste of my time.The dialogue also uses fairly unique voices, at least among our main characters. You can sort of tell who it is that’s meant to be talking based on how the lines are phrased. It’s always a bit of a pain when everyone in the story talks exactly the same.And once in a while, the author really does hit on a beautiful turn of phrase. Not as often as I’d hoped, but once in a while. And in one case, she even made a comment about the nature of reading and books that struck me as both lovely and genuine. It made me wish more of the book were written in that way.But the bad. First of all, I guess I can see how some people like the style of her prose. I found it to be not only overwrought but, perhaps in an attempt to sound more like the gothic novels she was emulating, sometimes outright bad. If you have an inner editor you can’t shut off, you’re going to find it pulling you out of the story regularly to alert you to pointless sentence fragments, comma splices and other such errors. It also makes a needless and foolish error, especially in a book so heavily about books and stories, when apparently no one in production caught a misspelling of a pretty well-known literary character’s name.For me, the characters run the gamut from ‘dull and forgettable’ to ‘dull and vaguely gross.’ Our narrator, who is done no favors by presenting herself in first-person, has so little character that I found it hard to care at all about her sections. This is a shame, because the keys were there for what could have been a nice character arc – her focus on being stuck in the past, trapped by wanting to see a twin she never knew, facing the distance of a mother who never got over the loss of that daughter. I think what the author meant to do was parallel Vida’s need to explain her story with the narrator’s need to accept that hers is important too and has held her back in life for years. But instead the mother aspect is barely explored until the end when it’s just stated at us, and the only thing of real consequence w.r.t. her own story that she does is drone on and on about missing her twin. And even there, if the story made me understand in an emotional way why she’s seeking the completeness she thinks her twin would bring her, it could have worked. But the book pretty much dismisses that tactic early on, basically claiming that there’s no way for non-twins to understand. With the lack of emotional connection, she may as well be hunting a snipe as the ghost of her twin for all the impact it made on me.The author of the titular ‘thirteenth tale’ is slightly better in that she avoids blandness and I at least feel a little of her affection for her sister, making her somewhat human and rounded. However, so much unmitigated pretention comes from her character that I was alienated and didn’t end up feeling much for her either.The story that these two frame is a little better written and more interesting, but the characters are all just blocks, void of much other than the basest of instinct and reaction, acting out the story with a certain detachment. Charlie and Isabella are selfish sado-masochists, and that’s it. Emmeline’s sweet and Adeline’s destructive. Oh yes, and the twins are twins, which is apparently supposed to tell me something other than birth circumstance in this story. The missus is old, the doctor is… there. The gardener and the nanny-ish character are a bit more human but have a very small part.And then there’s the mysteries meant to build the tension and drive a reader forward. These seem to come in two flavors – the super broadcast ones and the ones that It felt like you could only have worked out through guesswork (Though I really tore through the last third in an attempt to just have it over, so perhaps I missed something to explain some of the latter. Take that complaint with appropriate salt) Who is Vida Winter? It spends so much time talking about lies and stories that I couldn’t possibly believe she was Adeline, as she claimed. The big twist – that there was a third child along with the twins – was not at all subtle. Hey you guys! Jane Eyre! And there’s a ghost at the house. Just like Jane Eyre! Where the ghost was another person in the house that was mostly kept out of sight! And sometimes Adeline acts like a *gasp* completely different person! And sometimes Vida’s narration chances from a ‘they’ to a ‘we.’ And did I mention a ghost, and Jane Eyre? *nudge nudge* And then there’s moments like when Margaret (the narrator) arrives at the site of the (now demolished) house and sees cops and a white tent up. Somehow from that she knows they found bones? Or how did she figure out it was Aurelius who visited Vida? Because he asked what, essentially, many others had before him? I guess, but it seemed too convenient to me.And then there’s how many of the plot elements seem to have been lifted haphazardly from the books the author name-drops. All in all, this was a disappointing read because it should have been better. The idea was great, and some of the details of the story and Vida’s life could be really compelling literature. But instead of delving into the psyche and motivations of characters we get endless pages of flowery prose wrapped around mundane and useless details. Instead of connecting us to the humanity in the characters or at least framing their alien-ness through a sympathetic narrator, we’re just sort of told how to feel and never given much reason to care. The result is one of the most disappointing books I’ve read in a while.