Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Reviewed by Lotte:

This mystical fable starts in an Inn along the banks of the river Thames, famous for its stories. One evening a stranger arrives with a seemingly dead child, and severely injured himself. No one knows the pair and thus the unknown begins. The girl, first confirmed dead, returns to life. But who is she? And how did this happen? We are taken through the lives of three separate groups who each believe she is their missing child. But what is real and what is just hope? What is the truth and what is old folklore?

Straight off this is not a fast paced, action packed story. Instead it is a slow, meandering tale with the beauty and the magic being found in the subtleties of the writing and the stories within the main storyline. It is enchanting in its mystery combined with the sadness and complexities of human nature and spirit. Setterfield takes us through the lives of these three groups, the heartbreak they’ve endured, the hope they hold on to and ultimately the truth…or thereabouts. Because not all can be explained. The gentle magic running throughout this plot left you hanging on, even to the end, never completely revealing everything…Quietly.

I felt drawn into each of the lives of these people, wishing that in some way this girl could magically belong to all. Each group had very different circumstances and reasons to like them, to feel for them. I found myself rooting for all three!

As I said, this was a slower read and if I’m honest I would have liked a little more pace. However, the chapters were almost self-contained additions to the plot, so it was possible to just chip away at the story, and in some way, this worked well, allowing the details, the implied notions and the query of reality to fully sink in.

Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Atria
Release date: 4 December 2018

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