Once Upon a River: A Novel

Once Upon a River: A Novel

by Diane Setterfield

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Once Upon a River: A Novel 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 82 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the most long winded book I think I've ever read. It's been a long time since a book has given me feelings of dread every time I picked it up. 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Thames River tale is at the heart of this novel. The river and the legend draw together all the characters and all the threads of their mysteries. Life & death & life again. Love lost and then found. Optimistic in the end as a reward for searching for, finding, and facing truth.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story is like the river. Sometimes swift and furious and then it meanders and becomes placid. Several stories within a larger plot. The loose ends are all connected in the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The+writing+is+rich%2C+the+characters+are+complex%2C+and+the+plots+are+compelling.+++I+thoroughly+enjoyed+it.
PinkFirework More than 1 year ago
This book, for some reason kind of reminded me of The Snow Child a bit. The story starts off by introducing readers to all of the characters throughout the sleepy little town, each with their own lives and dark pasts. As the citizens are sitting in the local inn/tavern, a man stumbles in from a storm carrying what appears to be a dead child. From that point forward the story really begins. I'm amazed by how seamlessly the author weaved in the townspeople's stories into the overall plot. As the story progresses, you find out more about each of these people and how they might(?) be connected to the sudden appearance of the child. If you're a fan of magical realism, I think you'll definitely enjoy this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book as much as I loved The Thirteenth Tale, possibly more. The characters were so well wtitten that i miss The Swan amd its inhabitants. The story is in many ways a fable and it flows like the river, enjoy it and savor it. Its an exceptional story.
Book_and_recipe_Examiner More than 1 year ago
At winter solstice in the Swan at Radcot, a weathered pub beside the Thames river, where stories are told and retold round the bar and a roaring fire, a man washes up, banged-up and nearly dead, with a very young girl, as lifeless as a mannequin. Until her eyes flutter open. Is it a miracle? No one can tell; not the town nurse, Rita, who aided her, nor the others who witnessed her carried in. But then a mystery ensues: whose child is she? More than one family comes to claim the girl, and the evidence each family contains only adds to the mystery. Does she belong to the wealthy white family who longed for a child for many years? Does she belong to the mixed-race family, with a dead mother and a father who abandoned her, leaving her dark-skinned grandfather to claim her? What credence should be given to the slow-minded girl who lives in a derelict cottage further down the river and insists that the baby is her lost sister? And what evidence is there for each claim? Each family’s secrets will unveil the darkest branches of their histories, at the stake of finding the right home for the little girl. Full of mysteries, town secrets, and old legends, Once Upon a River is about a place where miracles and myth follow the river to display the influence of family and having a good story to tell on a cold, wintery night. For discussion questions, a list of similar reads, and an accompanying recipe for super easy cinnamon apple buns, visit http://hub.me/amsos.
escape_inabook More than 1 year ago
I received a free advance copy of this title via netgalley and the publisher. My review is unsolicited and opinions are my own. This book is phenomenal and I don’t toss high praise around lightly. Every page is another layer to an expertly executed lush tapestry. The first two chapters were a little slow to grasp my interest but once I passed them I could not stop reading.
JHSEsq 4 months ago
Author Diane Setterfield takes her readers back to 1887 when history was passed from generation to generation orally, neighbors all knew each other, and the local pub was the place where people gathered to share news and repeat the same stories over and over. It was a time before modern medicine and forensics. The story begins at the Swan, an ancient inn operated by Joe Bliss and his wife, Margot, on the night of the solstice. As the locals gather, the door bursts open and a man with a bloodied, misshapen head roars in carrying a lifeless child. Rita, the local nurse, cares for the man but is convinced that the little girl is deceased. But then something miraculous happens. The child opens her eyes. So begins the quest to ascertain the child's identity. The man who brings her to the Swan is Henry Daunt, a photographer, who pulled the drowned child from the Thames. But how she ended up there is a mystery that she cannot help unravel because she does not speak. Helena Vaughan is convinced that the child is her beloved Amelia, who was kidnapped from her bedroom in the Vaughans' mansion two years ago. During those two years, Helena has been inconsolable, and believing that her daughter has returned not only restores her hope and vigor, but rejuvenates her marriage to Anthony. He is convinced only of one thing: the child is not Amelia, although he has never confessed the real reason why he is certain. Rather, he goes along with Helena, participating in the charade, relieved to see his wife happy and their relationship vibrant again. But could the child be Alice Armstrong, daughter of Robin? Little Alice's mother committed suicide, and is presumed to have drowned her daughter. Robin has been a disappointment to his stepfather, Robert, who married Robin's mother, Bess, vowing to love and raise her unborn child as his own. Robert is educated, articulate, and aristocratic, but has always known, because of the color of his skin, what it feels like to be an outsider. He was determined that Robin would never know that same pain, but despite his efforts, Robin has turned out to be a gambler, drinker, and criminal who does not care about his family, and is perhaps determined to profit by convincing everyone that the child is indeed Alice. Lily White, a widow, works in the parson's household insists that the little girl is her sister, Ann, who went missing at four years of age. Rita and the parson attempt to convince Lily that is quite impossible, given that Lily is in her forties. She has harbored a dark secret for decades about which she has been consumed with grief and self-loathing. Satterfield weaves a compelling tale about mistaken identity, longing, grief, and the willingness to believe the impossible in order to alleviate sorrow. Her large and eclectic cast of characters each have engrossing histories, secrets, and motivations. Satterfield skillfully reveals the truth about each character's past, injecting clues as to the true identity of the child. She explores her characters' inner conflicts with compassion and insight, rendering many of them empathetic and relatable. The pace of the book emulates that of the river's flow. Once Upon a River is a fairy tale with a timeless quality, full of lush, evocative prose. Atmospheric and original, populated by fascinating and endearing characters, and full of unexpected plot twists and surprises, the story is as haunting as it is charming. Thanks to NetGalley for an Advance Reader's Copy.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Rag_Doll 10 months ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, one of the best I've read for a while. Having read and loved The Thirteenth Tale, I knew I'd be in for a good solid story with Once Upon A River. Several times during the book I was reminded of the writing style of Charles Dickens – a story with proper grounding and characters with personality. Set in 1887 on the banks of the River Thames, much of the story centres around the The Swan, a local inn where storytelling is the entertainment and where more beer means more embellishment. One evening, an injured man stumbles in carrying a young girl who appears to be dead. A little girl who sometime later is alive. This is a time when superstition and supernatural blurred into real life and a dead girl coming back to life is a fantastical story for all to tell and re-tell. The girl has three possible identities, she is either Alice, Amelia or Ann, and none is certain of her identity even when she lives with two of the families claiming her. The girl herself has lost the ability to speak and there is frustration from the Vaughans who desperately want her to be Amelia, their daughter who disappeared two years ago. The river plays a large part of the story and to add to the strange goings on with a child coming back to life, there is rain, more rain, and inevitable flooding which seeps into their homes and lives as the river becomes a torrent. Amidst superstition and folklore there's also skulduggery, ransoms and beatings. Once Upon A River is a fulfilling story which has a depth of storytelling which is rare these days. I absolutely loved it.
KarlieSch 10 months ago
Exactly what you are looking for in a story... This story was full of magical realism and exactly what I was looking for when I started reading it. The small river town setting was essential to the story, reminding me at times of scenes of inns on the river in Game of Thrones. While the interweaving of the lives of multiple characters was slightly confusing at times, all of your questions are answered and everything wraps up nicely by the end. I was afraid everything wouldn't tie together in the end, but it was perfect. I loved the moral compass, Mr. Armstrong, and how it's not just the love of a mother highlighted in the book, but also the love a father can feel too. I definitely recommend this book, especially if you liked the Thirteenth Tale
Anonymous 12 months ago
A wonderful book! Loved the author's style. Many interesting characters and a story that was constantly moving. A bit of fantasy but that blends in well.
BooksDirect More than 1 year ago
“A river no more begins at its source than a story begins with the first page.” So begins this tale set along the Thames River and its tributaries, starting at the Swan inn at Radcot, famous for its storytelling. It’s solstice night, the longest night of the year, “a time of magic. And as the borders between night and day stretch to their thinnest, so too do the borders between worlds. Dreams and stories merge with lived experience, the dead and the living brush against each other in their comings and goings, the past and the present touch and overlap. Unexpected things can happen.” A stranger stumbles into the inn, carrying a little girl who, for all intents and purposes, is dead. “A body always tells a story – but this child’s corpse was a blank page.” Then she shows signs of life. “Is it a miracle?” It is “as if they had told a tale of a fairy princess and finished it only to find her sitting in a corner of the room listening.” The girl is later claimed by no less than three different families: Bess and Robert Armstrong, farmers from Kelmscott, believe she is their grandchild Alice, the daughter of their son Robin. At Buscot, Helena and Anthony Vaughan mourn the disappearance of her daughter Amelia two years earlier. Can this be her? And Lily White, the parson’s housekeeper, claims the child is her sister Ann, who died many years ago. How can this be so? But they’re not the only ones who want her. Innkeeper Margot, who already has thirteen children, wants to keep her. Henry Daunt, the photographer who rescues the girl, feels she is the daughter he wishes he’d had from his failed marriage. Even Rita Sunday, the nurse who never wanted to have a child, wishes she were hers. And then there’s Mr. Quietly, the ghostly ferryman whose daughter drowned in the river. The girl herself does not speak and seems perfectly content with whoever takes her. But she has an endless fascination with the river. Who is she really? The narrator speaks to us directly, involving us in the narrative. The main story detours into rich backstories which we think are irrelevant but which all tie together masterfully. We are introduced to an array of characters whose stories are woven into the original narrative via the river, as these scenes take place along tributaries of the Thames. The ever-present river is anthropomorphized and becomes a character in its own right. The book contains great descriptive passages. The author’s simple, yet powerful prose allows us to see things in a whole new light. She uses imaginative similes - for example, when describing how stories change in the re-telling: “It was like a living thing that he had caught but not trained; now it had slipped the leash and was anybody’s.” - and watery metaphors. And her description of the river’s path to the ocean, including a poetic description of the water cycle, is pure genius. Just like the storytellers at the Swan, the author’s storytelling is so engaging that I didn’t want to put the book down, and I didn’t want it to end. The author’s first novel, "The Thirteenth Tale", is one of my favorite books of all time. I’m so glad this one didn’t disappoint. Warnings: mild sex scene, suicide, violence. Full blog post (12 May): https://www.booksdirectonline.com/2019/05/once-upon-a-river-by-diane-setterfield.html
DressedToRead More than 1 year ago
A story that completely transported me to the Swan, a vintage inn on the Thames River. "The dead girl lived again." And the story, the mystery of the little girl, and those who would claim her as their own....began. This is a book that needed my full concentration to appreciate. I wanted to find a quiet reading spot and was able to just get "lost" in the weaving and turning and telling of the tale. Reminiscent of a dark fairy tale, blended with folklore, and mystery. A book for those who want to spend time in the unfolding of this magical story. The characters were engaging and I was fully invested in learning what would become of the dead girl who lived again . Recommend to those who enjoy an epic tale that needs your attention to fully enjoy.
ShellB82 More than 1 year ago
Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read Diane Setterfield's Once Upon a River. This historical mystery tale begins when a wounded stranger enters The Swan pub carrying what appears to be a waxen doll and is told like a fairytale. The mystery begins when the doll turns out to be a little girl who seems dead only to come to life setting tongues wagging in the village and villages up and down the Thames. Who is the little girl? Two families seem to claim her but there is a cruel plot afoot. With elements of the supernatural balanced by the scientific logic of a Rita, the local nurse and Henry Daunt, a skilled photographer and the girl's rescuer, some mysteries are solved and some endings are happy. The first third of Once Upon a River moves a bit slowly as the reader is acquainted with the characters and the local lore but after Part One the story moves along more steadily with as many twists and unexpected connections as the river itself. It was these twists that kept me reading, eager to learn exactly where the girl had come from. Personally, as the daughter of a photographer, I was most fascinated by the Victorian era photography methods and Taunt's character.
apeape More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written story about the power of stories. It's a slow burn, so grab a snack and a blanket and settle in. Lots of atmosphere and a bit of magic, some suspense, and an air of mystery. Read this when you're ready to fall into a book and not come out for a while.
JMBS1212 More than 1 year ago
Solid 3.5 What a great read! The pacing was slow but that did not make the book bad! Quite the opposite! It made the story that more amazing. It gave you time to get to know the characters and fall deeply into the story. The story centers about a small child found in the river dead....until she is not, and an injured man who carries her to the inn. Who is this child? How did she come back? Who is the man she is with? The town folk in the inn gather around and try guess the mystery behind the child. The story has a lot of characters, side stories but they all tie up neatly in the end. Setterfield weaves a great story and I would check out her other works, that I hear are just as amazing. I would recommend this book to just about everyone!
Meemo_B More than 1 year ago
I wasn't quite sure what to expect here, since I'd not read a Diane Setterfield book before (not that I hadn't heard of her, I just never got around to reading her). What I got was...well, a lot...a rich story full of science and magic, heroes and villains, love and hate, a storyteller telling a story full of storytellers. And a river runs through it all, carrying life and death. It's a lovely read, with excellent characterizations of the characters and the world they live in. Now I need to bump Setterfield's other books up my TBR list. On a side note, I combined listening and reading on this one, and Juliet Stevenson's narration of the audiobook is brilliant. Thanks to Netgalley and Atria Books for providing a copy for an unbiased review.
Maryvero More than 1 year ago
I would define this a mix between novel and historical fiction. The plot takes place in 19th century England, the starting of the book really creates an atmosphere that makes you feel you are reading about something ancient, but at the same time somehow familiar. It is a book about storytelling. The language is definitely UK English and requires a little more attention if you are from the U.S. (combined by the fact that English is not your first language). After the little slow intro, then we are captivated by the mistery: a man and a girl enter into a bar. The girl seems dead, but then somehow revives. The question is: who is this girl? Read the book if you want to know.
JennGrand More than 1 year ago
This book is not only beautifully written, but gloriously intricate. It begins when a stranger brings a lifeless girl into the town bar, and she miraculously comes back to life. Three different families claim her, and no matter what happens, someone will be disappointed.  You will be swept up in its words from the very first page and you won't be able to forget it long after the last page. It's fabulous. Trust me, please read it!
taramichelle More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved Once Upon A River, the story was absolutely enchanting. The writing was just beautiful and I loved the slight magical realism feel to the novel. The characters were brilliant, vividly drawn and so very flawed. I had high hopes for this novel and Setterfield managed to surpass them. *Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Twink More than 1 year ago
I've read Diane Setterfield's previous two historical fiction novels and really enjoyed them. But her latest, Once Upon a River? Absolutely fantastic! 1887. A pub in a small village on the River Thames. And what is a pub if not a gathering place, a place to catch up with neighbours and friends and a place to tell stories. Many stories are told of the dark and stormy night that Henry Daunt stumbled into The Swan, half dead and carrying a small girl. The girl appears to be dead....but miraculously isn't. But who is she? Many claim to know her, but is she Ann? Amelia? Alice? "In this room, in this inn, they had seen her dead and seen her alive. Unknowable, ungraspable, inexplicable, still one thing was plain: she was their story." I was drawn into Setterfield's tale from the opening pages. I could picture myself sitting in a cozy corner of the pub, listening to the stories being told. Once Upon a River has a delicious fairy tale feel to it. We are introduced into a wealth of characters as the search for who the child is begins. Each and every one is wonderfully drawn. And as with a fairy tale, you'll find the 'good' and the 'bad' very easy to determine. I was drawn to so many of the 'good' ones. But my favourite has to be Robert Armstrong, a farmer who plays a pivotal role in this tale. His goodness shines through, his determination to do the right thing. And...he talks to his pigs. And the pigs seem to understand and answer with their eyes. A close second was Rita Sunday - a no nonsense nurse whose crisp exterior covers up her heart's desire - and fears. But the entire book revolves around this character - the water, the River Thames. The water gives and takes, holds memories of what has gone and knows what should be. Who the girl might be (and was she really dead?) is at the center of the book. And the answer to that drives the book forward in a measured, meandering, magical journey. Setterfield's prose are wonderful and the story captivated me. I was sad to turn the last page. But so very glad I read this one. Once Upon a River has found a forever home on my bookshelf. "And now, dear reader, the story is over. It is time for you to cross the bridge once more and return to the world you came from. This river, which is and is not the Thames, must continue flowing without you. You have haunted here long enough, and besides, surely you have rivers of your own to attend to?"
Shortcake5 More than 1 year ago
How Dreamy is this Fantasy, Once Upon a River? Diane Setterfield is a brilliant writer. The intertwining of story, the life experiences that cross over into other realms. The confusion that one little baby can create. Is so well told that you just can't put this book down. If you love fantasy like Inkheart; Lord of the Rings; The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe I can see you falling in love with this book.
LouiseFoerster More than 1 year ago
Loved the pace, loved the unfurling connections throughout this wonderful story. Masterful story, filled with magic and real life centering on the river that flows through the lives of complex, wonderfully drawn characters. I was enraptured from the first sentence and read breathless this perfectly paced, excellent novel.