About the Book
A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.
Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle?
Is it magic?
Or can it be explained by science?
I was beyond delighted when I was contacted about reading Once Upon A River as I read The Thirteenth Tale when it was first published and I adored it and I’ve been eagerly anticipating this new one from Diane Setterfield. I’m so happy to say that I fell in love with this novel!
Once Upon A River is a beautiful novel set along the river Thames. One night in The Swan Inn the storytellers are gathered when a mysterious man bursts in carrying what appears to be a puppet or a doll. It turns out to be a young girl and she is deemed to be dead from drowning. Later when the local nurse, Rita, checks on her she begins to breathe, which baffles everyone. The issue then becomes the need to find out who this girl is and where her parents are.
The mystery of the girl quickly spreads along the Thames and more than one family claim she belongs to them. She also becomes the subject of the storytellers and different versions of what might have happened her begin to be told.
My favourite character was Rita, the nurse and midwife, who looked after everyone within the community. I loved how she was so scientifically minded in a time when so many things weren’t understood and she didn’t have access to education. I also loved Daunt, the photographer. It was wonderful to read the process of taking photos in this time period and I felt I was right there looking over his shoulder.
Once Upon A River has a vast cast of characters, each one fully realised and becomes absolutely real as you’re reading. I loved the slower pace of this novel, it meanders like the river and the best way to read this book is to go at the pace it sets. I’m naturally quite a fast reader but this book was one I had to read slowly, I wanted to stay in this world for as long as I possibly could and I never wanted it to end. The writing is beautiful, the setting is so vivid and the characters felt like real people to me.
This is an epic novel and every single sentence is relevant to the plot so it’s a book to be savoured. The book moves between characters and gradually you see how each of their stories links to another’s story and the picture begins to come to life. Some of the people in this book are storytellers but it also felt like the novel itself is storytelling along with the story of the storytellers and it’s so beautiful.
It’s impossible for me to do any kind of justice to this novel in my review but trust me, it’s a stunning book and I defy anyone not to enjoy it. I adored it and it’s absolutely going to be in my favourite books of this year, I can’t stop thinking about it and that’s always the mark of a wonderful book when it lingers in your mind long after you’ve finished reading it. It’s atmospheric, captivating and utterly beautiful!
Once Upon A River is out now in ebook and available to pre-order in hardback from here.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher. All thoughts are my own.
About the Author
Diane Setterfield’s bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale was published in 38 countries, sold more than three million copies, and was made into a television drama scripted by Christopher Hampton, starring Olivia Colman and Vanessa Redgrave.
Her second novel was Bellman & Black, and her new novel is Once Upon a River. Born in rural Berkshire, she now lives near Oxford, by the Thames.
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