Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield
On 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 and in steps an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.
Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle?
Is it magic?
And who does the little girl belong to?
An exquisitely crafted multi-layered mystery brimming 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.
Why has it taken me so long to read this outstanding novel?
I loved this nineteenth-century story which has many twists and turns, just like the river that it is set upon. The author has produced writing at it’s finest, with this mystical, mythical story which is laced with folklore and magic.
Once Upon A River begins at an inn called The Swan, situated next to the river Thames. Locals gather there to while away the winters nights, drinking ale and telling stories. On the night of the winter solstice, a badly injured man appears holding what is first thought to be a small lifeless child. To the astonishment of all witnesses, the child who appeared to have drowned suddenly awakes whilst the nurse is tending to her. As news of the strange occurrence spreads throughout the village, more than one family come forward to claim the child as their own.
I found myself completely lost in this book. There are many characters but they are all multi-layered and really come to life on the page. I loved the mystical theories concerning ‘Quietly’ a ghostly ferryman who was believed to help villagers in peril on the river, by getting them safely home.
The many river references combine beautifully with the whimsical poignancy of this remarkable book. It was interesting to read about the many comparisons between a river and a story, both winding and flowing with many tributaries playing an integral part. The mystery element keeps you guessing and although it is not a fast-paced book it is really captivating and leads to a satisfying conclusion.
This is the first book I have read by Diane Setterfield but it has left me eager to read more. Thank you so much to the publisher and author for a copy which I have reviewed honestly.