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Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

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Now is the perfect time to let some magic into your life…

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
Due to be Published January 2019 in the UK
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: [★★★★]

This ARC was provided by Random House UK (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: 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?

Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: This is the perfect time of year to lose yourself in a fairy tale and this could be the perfect fairy tale to lose yourself in. This is the story about a river that is the Thames and at the same time not the Thames, it is about a lost child who is found and then lost again, it is about family, love, hope, magic and tragedy.

At first glance this may look like a good choice for the younger reader but the content is definitely geared towards an older audience. The story has implied rape, kidnapping, death and domestic violence you – have been warned.

The narrative weaves together the stories of multiple families who are bound together by the fate of the mystery girl found in the water. Who is she? Who does she belong with? and how will she find her way home again?

The book has many well recognised fairy tale tropes, the drowned girl who comes back to life but is mute, the good hearted simple people who find her, the rich family who can give her everything as well as the dark side, the wife beats, drunks and gamblers. As with all good fairy tales there is a romantic side to the story and of course by the end everything is wrapped up so that the surviving characters can live “happily ever after”.

The writing in this book is magical and at points very funny here are a few examples of things that struck me:

“There was a doctor two miles from Radcot, but nobody thought of sending for him. He was old and expensive and his patients mostly died, which was not encouraging. Instead they did the sensible thing: they sent for Rita.”

“Underneath it all, a little girl whose face he could not even remember, but whom he could not – would not -forget.”

“Just ’cause a thing’s impossible, don’t mean it can’t happen.”

“He saw her not here in this room and not now in this hour, but in the infinity of memory.”

“They sat on the bank. It was better to tell such stories close to the river than in a drawing room. Words accumulate indoors, trapped by walls and ceilings. The weight of what has been said can lie heavily on what might yet be said and suffocate it. By the river, the air carries the story on a journey, one sentence drifts away and makes room for the next.”

The book is not without it flaws and one of those is the stereotypical characters while the good characters come in a variety of forms the bad are almost invariably male, drunks, gamblers, smugglers, and violent. I would have liked to see some more variety here.

Overall I enjoyed losing myself in this new version of the Thames and would recommend this to anyone who loves a good fairy tale.

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I loved the book. It was a 5 star read for me and will definitely have a place in my Top 10 favourites for 2018. I was lucky enough to hear Diane talk about the book at this year’s Henley Literary Festival and this definitely added to my enjoyment of the book when I came to read it. (My write-up of the event is here if you’re interested https://whatcathyreadnext.wordpress.com/2018/10/25/event-review-diane-setterfield-at-henley-literary-festival-2018/)

    Liked by 1 person

    December 27, 2018
    • Great review sounds like a great event and I can understand why that would make you love a book even more

      Liked by 1 person

      December 28, 2018

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