Once Upon a River

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 22 Jan 2019

Member Reviews

I loved this book! I read most of this on Christmas day cocooned in a blanket in front of the fire. It was the comforting kind of book that you just want to live inside of. The writing and the setting flowed together beautifully. I loved how the characters were all treated with compassion.
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I wish I handn't waited so long to dive into this book! Setterfield is a master of storytelling, so it is only appropriate that she center this novel around an inn with patrons who have a knack for wrapping you up in a tale. Throughout the story, there is a focus on sight, photography, and eyes, which contrasts perfectly with the issue at hand: who is this little girl? Why can no one identify her by looking at her face? I can think of nothing more unsettling than a parent being unable to tell whether or not the child before them is their own. Incredibly character development and a slightly spooky, very unsettling tale made this an excellent read.
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I told my wife about the book after I finished it and she seemed mildly intrigued. But one evening recently I read her the first two chapters. She was mesmerized (and so was I, especially knowing the end from the beginning). Her comment: "I want that book!" We purchased the ebook version and she spent the next three or four days buried in the book every chance she got, She couldn't put it down.

What I realized when I read aloud the two chapters was Setterfield's attention to the sounds of words, something I didn't pick up on as much when I read the galley silently. The book is a big, glorious homage not just to story but to how language can. enrapture us, weaving readers into the warp and woof of the events themselves. In such a masterly author, that needs no strong arming,. Just an Armstrong,
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Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield begins more than a hundred years ago at an inn along the River Thames. There, a mysterious child arrives dead and leaves alive. When three separate families claim her, the novel takes us through past and present to determine who she is. Read this when you are in the mood for an enchanting story that blurs the lines between reality and magic. It is Beartown by Fredrik Backman meets A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Best paired with a midnight feast of soup and cheese and apple pie with thick cream poured over it.
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I had been meaning to read The Thirteenth Tale for a while now, but it wasn't until I saw this book first mentioned that I finally decided to try this author's work. Why ever did I wait?! Diane Setterfield is a master of this style, and while I normally read fast-paced YA stories, this one satisfied a craving I didn't realize I even had! The blurb drew me in, and though it's not a genre I read often, I can easily see myself coming back to this author! I loved the enchanting setting and the storytelling is superb! This is one of those that shouldn't be rushed, and one that should be read on those days where you have nothing better to do than to curl up with a good book and a steaming mug to enjoy.
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What a beautifully written book! This author is new to me and has definitely acquired a fan. Many have compared it to a fairytale and that may be an apt description. When a child is found, there is a mystery surrounding her. Who is her family? Where did she come from? The author answers those questions slowly but magically.
This is a book that I will surely re-read!
I received an Advance Review Copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
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I had so much hope for this book - I loved The 13th Tale - but for me, this one was just okay. I had a hard time connecting with any of the characters, and the story took so long to unwind that I lost interest early on, despite some lovely writing
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Such a beautifully written story. I loved the lush fantasy of ONCE UPON A RIVER. A slow pace but gorgeous novel--you'll be glad to take the time with this one.
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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?"
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After reading The Thirteenth Tale, I was ecstatic to read her next novel. Once Upon a River is a lush novel about a lost girl whom many characters believe to be theirs. The story is slow-moving and is very character-driven telling the views of many characters. I absolutely loved the setting, and I like how fairy tale elements were incorporated into this novel. There were some graphic scenes that made me feel a bit uncomfortable. However, this is very powerful and emotional novel  that will linger with you long after you read the final page.
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I loved this book! Setterfield is a skilled storyteller, an on-the-edge-of-your-seat storyteller. I felt like I was “listening” as much as reading. Set in the late 19th-century, the story opens in a centuries-old inn situated on the banks of the Thames. A bedraggled man staggers into the tavern holding what the drinkers thought was a puppet, but turned out instead, to be a four-year old girl who was not breathing.....at first. The mysterious child, does not speak and cannot identify herself. The book weaves in and out of the lives of two families and of several other key figures. The characters and their stories are well-developed., It's easy to get lost in their lives apart from their possible relationship with the little girl. A great hunker-down read! #NetGalley
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Beautiful and lyrical and ethereal, the prose is gorgeous and the story itself is riveting, if slow-building and winding. Definitely warrants the praise, and is one to be savored slowly, when you have time to devote a while to quiet reading and contemplation.
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This book takes place in an ancient inn on the banks of the Thames. Someone washes up on shore that changes their lives forever. 

This beautifully written story meanders like the the river. It's a very character driven, slow burner until everything crashes together at the end. It took me awhile to get through this one but the writing is so beautiful it never felt like a chore. Loved it!!!
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A lost girl, about four years old, turns up at the ancient Swan inn and tavern by the Thames River in 1887, on the night of the winter solstice. An injured man staggers into the inn, holding the apparently drowned girl in his arms, and promptly collapses. When the local midwife and nurse, Rita, arrives, she privately confirms that the girl is not breathing and has no pulse, though she mysteriously has no sign of drowning or other injury. But a few minutes later the girl suddenly lives and breathes again, stunning Rita and the others at the inn.

The girl is wordless, and it’s soon discovered that she doesn’t belong to Daunt, the man who carried her into the inn. Who, then, does she belong to? Several people raise a claim: Robin Armstrong, the wastrel oldest son of a black gentleman farmer, Robert, claims her as his lost daughter Alice. Lily White, an abused woman whose younger sister may have died many years ago, insists (against all evidence) that the girl is her little sister Ann. Helena and Anthony Vaughan, a couple whose two-year old daughter was kidnapped two years ago, claim the girl as their daughter Amelia, although it soon becomes clear that Anthony has grave doubts, though those are undermined by Helena’s passionate conviction and her joy after two years of inconsolable grief.

These and others are unique, interesting characters with strong backstories that flow like tributaries into the main river of the tale. The Swan inn is a place that specializes in storytelling, and the river that runs past the inn and flows in an out of the story throughout the novel, carries its own stories ― particularly Quietly the mythic ferryman, a gaunt figure who appears to those who are in trouble on the water, helping them either to life and safety or to “another shore.” A diverse cast of unusual characters, some tragedy, a mystery or three, a challenging romance, and a little magical realism spice up the plot of Once Upon a River.

Water flows throughout the tale, a potent symbol that Diane Setterfield, for the most part, uses effectively (I did find the closing paragraph too pat). Everyone’s life has been touched by the river to one degree or another. Daunt is a photographer who’s endlessly fascinated by the river. Rita was born to a despairing mother who threw herself into the river, dying just after giving birth to Rita. Helena has always loved boating on the river, until her daughter’s kidnapping and disappearance two years ago.

"It had seemed then that her daughter’s absence had flooded Helena, flooded them both, and that with their words they were trying to bail themselves out. But the words were eggcups, and what they were describing was an ocean of absence, too vast to be contained in such modest vessels. She bailed and she bailed, but no matter how often she repeated the effort, she could not get to the end of it."

Setterfield’s language is lovely and her storytelling is beautiful, with depths to it that most fantasy authors don’t aspire to. I also admire her ability to develop multi-layered characters and build a world that I felt wholly immersed in.

Bill’s (my co-review at Fantasy Literature) primary complaint is that Once Upon a River becomes too concrete and obvious in its symbolism, structure and plot. That wasn’t an aspect that bothered me; I’m generally just happy to see symbolism make an appearance at all (I strongly suspect that my literary tastes aren’t as exacting as Bill’s). What did vex me was that the pacing of the novel was so languid until it finally picked up in the final third. But then it was fascinating to see all the various tributaries (plot threads) of the story come together, although Setterfield makes a little too much use of coincidence in tying the threads together and wrapping up her story. Though perhaps one might call those coincidences fate, or Providence, or even Quietly the ferryman watching over the river and the people whose lives are touched by it.

Like the river that is the fluid, adaptable symbol for this Victorian-era story, Once Upon a River meanders at first, but gains force as it flows toward a compelling conclusion. It’s a profound and meaningful voyage that I enjoyed and would recommend to readers who enjoy thoughtful historic tales with a dash of fantasy.
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The plot was extremely slow, there were a LOT of characters to keep straight with most of them  taking over POV for at least one scene. I think that was a major problem that kept me from falling into the plot. The characters were written in a way that made them all seem like they didn't have emotions, only an inner monologue stating what their emotion was.It was weird  This books saving grace is the fact that its author really is such a gifted storyteller. I never once considered throwing this book off to the DNF pile. That really speaks for itself. I didn't really care what happened to the adults and was pretty indifferent to big end solving the mysteries but it was pretty to read. i enjoyed the town and the description and the back stories.  But something was missing  this book was missing. I'm not explaining this very well. All in all I liked the book but I'm left feeling pretty frustrated because a little extra character building would have made it great. Maybe I'll think on it some more and then adjust the review if need be. Ok, I should probably stop talking to myself in my written book review...

Real Quick Synopsis 
Thames - Big important English River with most English of all the River names. Every rule in the English language would indicate this river's name should rhyme James. Naturally it called tems instead. Yay for English.
One day this river beats up a man and spits him out along with a 4yr old. They end up in a country tavern. an astonishing number of people seem to have misplaced a 4 yr old. There is drama. Also, there's several pigs, a bad son, a photographer, a suicide, and a murder all thrown into the mix.
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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. I received an advance copy of this fine novel through the generosity of NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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Like the power and force of a river, Once Upon a River is truly awe inspiring.  It is a great story beautifully told and hard to put down.  A truly marvelous book.
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A beautiful genre crossing story. The line between our reality and the possibility of the supernatural is a fine one. Lyrically written but a bit of a slow burn so will probably be appreciated by patient readers. Impatient readers may find themselves easily distracted or bored.
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Excellent modern fairy tale. When a young girl drowns in the river and comes back to life, families uncover secrets. A small community along the river has long held beliefs about the river . This author has the touch to make fantasy reality. Always look forward to her books
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Once Upon a River is storytelling at it's best.  Folklore, mystery, magic, more mystery, legends, small town charm and a dose of wonder. There's not much I can say about Once Upon a River that hasn't already been said, but Setterfield's ode to rivers, imagination, and wonder set in the lovely Victorian era is magnificent and a treasure.
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