Sunday, August 25, 2019

Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? These questions have many answers, some of them quite dark indeed.

 Those who dwell on the river bank apply all their ingenuity to solving the puzzle of the girl who died and lived again, yet as the days pass the mystery only deepens. The child herself is mute and unable to answer the essential questions: Who is she? Where did she come from? And to whom does she belong? But answers proliferate nonetheless.

 Three families are keen to claim her. A wealthy young mother knows the girl is her kidnapped daughter, missing for two years. A farming family reeling from the discovery of their son’s secret liaison, stand ready to welcome their granddaughter. The parson’s housekeeper, humble and isolated, sees in the child the image of her younger sister. But the return of a lost child is not without complications and no matter how heartbreaking the past losses, no matter how precious the child herself, this girl cannot be everyone’s. Each family has mysteries of its own, and many secrets must be revealed before the girl’s identity can be known.

 Once Upon a River is a glorious tapestry of a book that combines folklore and science, magic and myth. Suspenseful, romantic, and richly atmospheric, the beginning of this novel will sweep you away on a powerful current of storytelling, transporting you through worlds both real and imagined, to the triumphant conclusion whose depths will continue to give up their treasures long after the last page is turned.

 Hardcover, 464 pages
Published December 4th, 2018
 by Atria/Emily Bestler Books

I vaguely remember reading Diane Setterfield’s previous book Bellman & Black and will confess to not being overly impressed with the plot but I found her writing captivating. Once I started reading this book I was engrossed with her writing once again. Once Upon a River begins with a scene that dragged this reader right in and as the chapters flowed with different characters I was just drawn in all the more.

Once Upon a River has a folklore feel with exquisite writing that at times I had to stop and reread, it was magically - I didn’t want it to end. The author placed me by the river, in the Swan, walking the streets giving me a real sense of the place.

Who is this young girl? How did she survive that night? With twists and turns, unique characters and storylines that fit together perfectly, reminding me of a jigsaw puzzle - everything clicked perfectly. It came to a conclusion that I did not anticipate.

Basically, the last paragraph of the synopsis sums up exactly what I want to say.  If you haven't read this yet don't wait 6 months like I did.  Definitely made my best of 2019 list.

My copy from personal library and part of my ‘2019 reading off my shelf’ challenge.

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