Once Upon a Riverby Published 04 Dec 2018
|Once Upon a River.pdf|
|Publisher||Atria/Emily Bestler Books|
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.
Once Upon a River Reviews
Along the borders of this world lie others.
There are places you can cross.
This is one such place.
This is a beautiful story. It's a genre-crosser: something of a historical mystery told like a fairy tale with magical realism. Everything straddles the line between reality and the supernatural, and sometimes it steps over into the fantastical, which might be surprising for fans of Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale.
I think it works really well, though. I should point out that the story is very slow burn and that's how the whole book unfolds - there's no "aha!" moment when the pace suddenly starts racing. It's a gentle, often sad, story of the magic in the mundane, and the normal in the seemingly miraculous.
Setterfield sets the tale along the banks of a fictional River Thames in an unspecified time that feels a hundred years or so before ours. True to our own history, this time is rife with superstition and folklore, tales of ghosts and fortune-telling. This allows for some uncertainty over what is supernatural and what exists in the minds of superstitious people. Does Bess really have the ability to look into someone's soul and see their true self, or is she just a woman adept at reading people?
I think that's what makes this story so thrilling. The line between our reality and the possibility of the supernatural is a fine one. I love fairy tales that open your eyes to the many "magical" things in our own world.
The story follows many characters and is largely centred around an inn called The Swan. One night, an injured man stumbles into the inn carrying a dead child. A child who sometime later is alive. Not only is this a mystery in itself, but so is the child's identity. Where did she come from? Could she be the missing daughter of the Vaughans who disappeared two years earlier? Could she be the grandchild of Mr Armstrong? The child in question does not speak a word.
The rhythm of the train on the tracks suggested words to his overtired brain and he heard them as clearly as if an unseen person had pronounced them: Something is going to happen.
As with The Thirteenth Tale, Setterfield really emphasizes the power of stories to shape people. The lore believed by these characters plays into their everyday lives, defining them. They are all so well-drawn, living seemingly simple working class lives, but hiding dark secrets and traumas that will, of course, come back to haunt them. Perhaps literally.
This is a gorgeous fairy tale, woven with everything that gives fairy tales their timeless quality. It is a quieter, more grounded in reality version of Katherine Arden or Naomi Novik. The feel reminds me somewhat of 2012's The Snow Child, but with a very different setting and a bigger cast of characters.
Fans of quiet fairy tales about people and (maybe) magic should love this. Warnings for [spoilers removed]
There must be more to stories than you think.
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Diane Setterfield has long been one of my favorite authors and her new novel does not disappoint. ONCE UPON A RIVER was everything I hoped it would be. Magical and mysterious and full of mayhem. Beautifully written (it seemed like I underlined every other sentence) and emotionally resonant (I cried several times). It is the story of three missing girls and three desperate families, set against the Thames, and just as meandering and wondrous as the river itself. One of its main characters--Robert Armstrong--has become one of my top three fictional men of all time. Once again Diane Setterfield has delivered a true reading experience. Simply put, it is a joy to read.
DNF. Too much magical realism and a fable-like quality to the writing. I do enjoy the genre on occasion but this is not the right time in my life to have the patience for it. I have too much going on.
Perhaps I will try it again at some point in the future.
New book from the author of The Thirteenth Tale! The publicist offered me an ARC, and I'm excited for this one, just from knowing it's from the same author. :)
This has been a very hard review for me to write. There is no doubt in my mind that Diane Setterfield is a fantastic writer. Her prose is beautiful, elegant, and whimsical. The words and sentences were a joy to read just to read them.
Despite how lovely the writing was, the actual story left me bored out of my mind and I struggled to want to pick this up off my nightstand. If this had not been an ARC that I had to review, it may have been a DNF. The plot never grabbed me. A child being rescued from a river is an element that seems exciting, but it never led to a satisfying story, which was a little ironic since the theme of this book is storytelling.
The ARC galley I received is beautiful. The cover, marketing, and stellar reviews are hyping this up to be a big book once it is released. I know that many, many people are going to love this book. Don’t let me discourage you from picking it up to decide if you like it for yourself.
Thanks to Simon & Schuster for mailing me a lovely ARC copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.