Publisher: Emily Bestler Books (Atria)
Publication Date: December 4th, 2018
Page Count: 480
From the Jacket:
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.
Along the borders of this world lie others. There are places you can cross. This is one such place.
Diane Setterfield, I love you.
Once Upon a River is remarkable–expertly written, it is an enchanting and engrossing adult fairytale. Setterfield has woven a timeless story that is dark and sad, yet beautiful, full of mystery and magical realism. Reader’s Digest calls it, ” a novel for book lovers” and I could not agree more.
Set in a fictional town on the bank of the Thames during a time when the world was still illuminated by gaslight, the story opens in a small inn called the Crown. Here the regulars gather each night to drink and tell stories. On one of these nights just as things are winding down, the door bursts open and a badly injured man comes inside carrying the body of a little girl. First thought to be dead, the girl lives and her survival sets an extraordinary course of events into motion.
Setterfield uses the next several chapters to introduce new characters, each one ending the same way: “Something is going to happen.” It is clear that the character introductions are happening along the same timeline, creating an eerie groundhog’s day vibe which I absolutely loved! Representing the full range of humanity, the characters are vibrant and full of depth, with personalities that burst off the page. Mysterious and deeply enmeshed in folklore and magic, the river itself is perhaps the most important character and so much of the tone and pace of the story are set by the behavior of the water. At times slow and calm and at others rushing and fast, the storylines come together as the characters make their way towards and intricately plotted conclusion that I’m still thinking about days later.
Even after writing this review, I’m still trying to find the words to express how much I loved this book–trying and coming up short every time. Diane Setterfield is a magician, and with this book she has worked pure magic. Once Upon a River is such a quiet and powerful story, and the writing reflects the movement of a river so perfectly that I was completely swept up in it from the very first page. I emphatically and enthusiastically recommend this one! The biggest thank you to Goodreads and Atria for the advanced review copy!