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Once Upon a River: A Novel Kindle Edition
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“I was completely spellbound by this book. Numerous strands of the same story are skillfully woven into a magical web from which I, as a reader, had no desire to escape. Setterfield’s prose is beautiful, dark and eerily atmospheric, and her rich cast of characters convincingly illustrate the best and worst of humanity. Utterly brilliant!” (Ruth Hogan, internationally bestselling author of THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS and THE WISDOM OF SALLY RED SHOES )
“Once Upon a River is a delight, just marvelous. I devoured it in gulps.” (Jo Baker, internationally bestselling author of LONGBOURN )
“Once Upon A River succeeds in doing what you hope every book will do - pull you in from the first page, hold you captive in the middle, then leave you satisfied and thoughtful at the end. I loved it.” (Renee Knight, critically-acclaimed author of DISCLAIMER )
"Diane Setterfield has created a true reading experience. Once Upon a River is the story of three missing girls and three desperate families all set against the Thames and woven together with magic, mystery, and mayhem. It is beautiful and heartbreaking and altogether wondrous. Simply put, it is a joy to read." (Ariel Lawhon, author of I WAS ANASTASIA )
“Setterfield fills this richly layered plot with a fascinating cast of memorable characters who weave in and out of each other's lives.” (Booklist)
"The heart of the story are the relationships that twist and turn, as if they also follow the river." (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
"Setterfield masterfully assembles an ensemble of wounded, vulnerable characters who, nevertheless, live by the slimmest margins of hope--hope that springs from family, from the search for meaning, from people's decency to strangers, from the belief that truth heals and sets one free . . . Celebrates the timeless secrets of life, death and imagination--and the enduring power of words. Fans, rejoice!" (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
"This probing inquiry into human nature is also spooky fun." (Vulture, "6 New Books You Should Read This December")
"This enchanting book from the author of The Thirteenth Tale is filled with folklore, romance, suspense." (Bustle, "The 8 Best Fiction Books Coming Out In December 2018")
"A mosaic of modern folklore." (InStyle)
"A magical, lyrical tale, filled with quests and questions." (The BBC)
"Diane Setterfield weaves a beautiful, suspenseful mystery . . . will keep you engrossed until the very last page." (PopSugar)
"Setterfield’s prose feels lifted from another era, a gothic lyricism resembling old classics like Jane Eyre." (Entertainment Weekly)
"Utterly enthralling." (New York Journal of Books)
- ASIN : B07D2ZZK6N
- Publisher : Atria/Emily Bestler Books; Reprint edition (December 4, 2018)
- Publication date : December 4, 2018
- Language : English
- File size : 4688 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 481 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #32,744 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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This fantastic story begins at the Swan, an inn located on the bank of the Thames. (Or perhaps it isn’t the Thames?) We do know it is the night of the winter solstice but we don’t know what year. You see, everything is deliberately a little vague as in any good fairy tale or myth; its meaning and relevance being universal and timeless.
When we start the book we soon learn the good folks at the Swan all love to tells stories, with each person trying to outdo the other. Their night is interrupted when an obviously large but injured man falls into the Swan carrying a lifeless little girl.
The very skilled and beloved nurse Rita is called in to help. She is able to stitch up and save the man but the little girl seems dead. But then, surprising everyone, it turns out she isn’t.
I don’t want to give much more away; it’s so much better and more fun finding out what happens next as the author intended - but I will say that there are several people in the village and just beyond who have an interest in this little girl and believe she belongs to them. Their motivations often as confusing to us the readers as it is to them. Most of these people are of good heart and most all seem to love her.
It is only at the end that most of our questions are answered.
I took over a week to read this book - I normally would read it in a day but I was so in love with it that I would read a few chapters and stop; it’s that good and I didn’t want it to be over. Whenever I picked it up and started reading I was completely transported to this mythic, wonderful place populated with the most wonderful characters. I didn’t want to leave, at the same time I desperately wanted to know what happened next,
It’s not important for me to have to like a character to like a book, but in this case you find yourself rooting for and caring about so many of them. Each character is so three-dimensional and the dialogue so spot and and often funny. Quirky in the best way.
The story itself is marvelous, but it’s the wonderful prose that makes this book one of my favorites. I have dog-earred so many pages (if I threw it across the room I think it might fly) because I thought certain sentences or descriptions were so clever and evocative. I know a lot of people write well, but this was exceptional and I am definitely going to go out and read her earlier books.
Just an example of the writing - a description of the landlady of the Swan, followed by a passage that may give you a feel for the otherworldly essence of the book:
“Margot was a handsome woman in her late fifties. She could lift barrels without help and had legs so sturdy, she never felt the need to sit down.”
“There are stories that may be told aloud, and stories that must be told in whispers and there are stories that are never told at all. The story of the marriage of Mrs. and Mrs. Armstrong was one of these latter ones, known only to the two parties to whom it belonged and the river. But as secret visitors to this world, as border crossers between one world and another, there is nothing to prevent us sitting by the river and opening our ears; then we will know it too.”
I cannot say enough good things about this book. It is so filled with heart and wonderful characters - even the river becomes one. Every once in a while, when I finish a book and turn the final page, I will clutch the book and experience a “reader’s high” for lack of a better phrase. It’s the most wonderful feeling and I got it with this book.
Although I've never read a book by this author, I was nonetheless excited to dive into this one based on the rave reviews for not only this book but for Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale. Not every author and/or book is for everybody and this one was certainly not my glass of chocolate milk.
While the prose is without a doubt prolific, the story crawled at an excruciating pace with pages and pages of descriptive text. Some have commented that the prolonged details are necessary in the telling of the story, I humbly disagree. There are a ton of characters in this story and while they are all fleshed out to the nth degree, I didn't care about or relate to any of them.
There is a lot of magic, as well religious undertones in this story, both of which turned me off immediately as I tend to steer clear of those subjects.
I realize that I am in the tiniest of minority of people that feel this book fell way short of expectations while most every other reviewer fell in love with this book. I do not discourage readers from picking this one up for that reason alone.
2 Stars for the writing ⭐⭐
I was provided an ARC of this book by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
What I really didn't like about the book was the numerous instances of domestic violence against both women and children. I realize the author was trying be authentic in terms of the frequency of such acts given the setting (1800s England). Still, it was extremely hard to read over and over again about multiple characters being abused. Sometimes these were just passing references and other times more detailed accounts. If this is something you find triggering, don't read this book.
Top reviews from other countries
Once Upon a River is a story which stands on the cusp of myth and reason. Lily see visions of a dead child, the river folk tell stories of the Ferryman, a grey figure who saves from the river those whose time has not yet come, but who also ferries others "to the other side". The forces of reason opposing them are headed by Rita, a self taught medic and amateur scientist, and Daunt, a photographer.
The story which flows from these sources is one of blackmail and murder, of wicked step-siblings and benevolent parentlng, of spiritualism, fortune telling and illicit distilling, of late flowering love and of pig rearing. One the subject of porcine husbandry, the brief reference to a character called Lord Embury, is surely a nod to P G Wodehouse.
The book's strongest suit is the plotting, which is intricate and satisfying, even if at least one loose end, relating to one of the lost children, is tied up a little too neatly and easily. The complexity of the plot is as it should be in a book whose main theme is storytelling. Indeed there is a hint that the main narrative is actually being told as a story at the Swan, rather than being the subject of the book itself.
Once Upon a River has similarities with the author's first novel, the Thirteenth Tale. The historical setting is never explicitly stated, I would guess at late Victorian, early Edwardian. One also gets a feeling of an author trying a little too hard to reproduce the 19th Century novel. Early on the building blocks of the story clunk a little too obviously into place as a sequence of chapters all end on the same note. Finally, the characters tend a little towards the black and white, with motivations, particularly in the case of Helena, mother of Amelia, not ringing true.
In terms of other novels, the most obvious comparison, possibly encouraged by the choice of cover, is with Sarah Perry's Essex Serpent. It is a comparison which favours that book rather than this. While the two are set in a similar time, and both deal with the conflict between superstition and enlightenment, the latter feels like a very modern novel with nuanced characters, while this feels more like a pastiche.
Other comparators might be Philip Pulman's Belle Sauvage for the setting on the banks of the Thames, Graham Swift's Waterland for the cyclical feel of the seasons, or even Dorothy L Sayer's Nine Tailors for the diluvian finale.
While I have some criticisms of the book, overall it is an enjoyable, enriching read. It is part ghost story, part detective yarn, part thriller, and in the end a rather sweet love story. Above all, it is a nice book, with its heart very firmly in the right place. Ultimately, what Setterfield has delivered is a cracking melodrama which perhaps bears more comparison with Wilkie Collins than with Dickens.
The story revolves around a girl who is brought to the Swan pub. She is proclaimed dead, but they she breathes again. The locals at the Swan are known for their storytelling and the girl who died and came back to life proves to be a story that grips everyone. Who is the girl? Where did she come from? The story unfolds and there are two possibilities as to the identity of the little girl. As the story unfolds we get to understand the motivations and lives of all the characters. The inclusion of folklore and myth surrounding the river is interweaved throughout the story and I found it completely absorbing. In fact, I didn't want the story to end. I loved every page, every description, and the ending was perfect too.
Sadly, this is untrue. I persevered with 65% of it before giving up. By that stage I was still waiting for the main characters to be revealed/ developed, but many of them had melded in my mind and it was difficult to say which stood out. Before I could get to grips with the existing ones, others were being introduced amid long periods of inaction. This is why I found it boring. It didn't go anywhere, and I got the impression that the writer was struggling with the plot herself. Writers like this can be found in any creative writing group, usually determined to explore the fairytale genre, but the folklore theme here is repetitive and heavy handed. I was not sure of the time frame and I feel, neither was the author, as events laboriously emerged.
The other jarring factor was the attempt at introducing far too many characters, and then having long periods where they seem to have been abandoned. The only author who could really handle a large cast was Dickens and this is poor attempt at doing something similar. It is just not robust enough to succeed.