Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
From the instant #1 New York Times bestselling author of the “eerie and fascinating” (USA TODAY) THE THIRTEENTH TALE comes a richly imagined, powerful new novel about how we explain the world to ourselves, ourselves to others, and the meaning of our lives in a universe that remains impenetrably mysterious.

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.
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About the Book
  • Published:
    Jan-2019 (Hardcover)
    Jul-2019 (Paperback)
  • Formats:
    Print / eBook / Audio
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If anyone ever asks me if I enjoy books from the fantasy genre, I usually reply, "Not really." But I should say "Not really, unless it's written by Diane Setterfield." I loved her earlier book, "The Thirteenth Tale", and I absolutely loved this one. Ms. Setterfield's books pulse with humanity. Her characters are beautifully crafted. I won't forget Margot and the Little Margots, Robert and Bess Armstrong, Rita and her photographer Daunt, and many others including all the wonderful children that people this book,. That and with her beautiful prose, that fills the pages of this book make this a book to revel in and enjoy. The plot centres around the river which "may or may not be the Thames" as is mentioned in the book. All the magic and all the pathos and all the humanity happens around the river and in the little village of Radcot and the bulk of the story occurs in the little inn called the Swan on the banks of the river. The book is dreamlike in its narrative. It pulled me in from the first page, held my interest throughout and left me feeling bereft at the end because I just didn't want to give these characters up. That is what a book is supposed to do, and certainly not all books do. The last paragraph in this book sums up my feelings very well -
"And now, dear reader, the story is over. It is time for you to cross the bridge once more and return to the world you came from. This river which is and is not the Thames must continue flowing without you. You have haunted here long enough, and besides, surely you have rivers of your own to attend to." - Diane Setterfield - Once Upon A River
That pretty much describes my experience with this book. I lived in this wonderful world that Diane Setterfield for three days, and even though I don't want "to attend to my own river", or even to begin another book right away, it's time to close the book for the last time. Radcot and its wonderful people will live in my memory for a long, long while. I am not going summarize anything because this book is ethereal and magical and every reader will get something different from it. Besides, I can't do justice to Ms. Setterfield's beautiful prose by summarizing what occurs in this book.
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