#bookreview Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield published by Doubleday


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? 

My reading experience:

Firstly I want to thank the publishers for my free copy via Netgalley.

I didn’t know what to expect from this book, the basis for my interest being rooted in the beautiful book design and that the story was based in the nineteenth century. What I made was a pleasant discovery – elegant writing that led me from place to place easily, from character to situation with anticipation and from my 21st century reading chair to the Swan Inn with stylistic prose.

The story is set in the Swan Inn where the man of the house is a raconteur of some notoriety when a man stumbles in with a drowned girl in his arms and promptly passes out from his injuries.

In the chapter called “Tributaries” the author gives such a winding description of the river it entices you along its banks as if you were blown across the top of the water like an iridescent dragonfly, with transparent wings conspicuous in their agility. This chapter is indicative of the writing throughout and I was overwhelmed by the literary nature of the tale.

Our characters are laid out for us like diagrams with spaces in between for the imagination to complete – imaginings of their daily lives, the controlled narrative of their life stories that they are compelled to follow – Inn keeper, gravel-digger, ferryman and the like.

There is no doubt this is an old fashioned story-telling with ingenious colourful ramblings, twists and turns and the fundamental mystery of the drowned girl brought back to life.

Highly recommend. Thanks again to Netgalley and the publishers Doubleday for my free ARC.


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