Review of ‘Once Upon A River’ by Diane Setterfield

This book is extraordinary. It’s so different from anything I’ve read lately. There are quite a number of characters in the story but the main one is the river itself, the Thames. It was no surprise to learn that the author lives by the Thames, near Oxford, because this novel is infused with love and respect for the river.

The premise of the story is that a little girl is rescued from the river. She appears to be drowned and then comes back to life. But she doesn’t speak and it’s not clear who she belongs to – there are at least three possibilities. The narrative explores the stories behind the individuals whose lives are touched by this event. We do eventually find out what happened, although there is a veil of mystery, myth and possibly magic over it all. I actually enjoyed the second half of the book better than the first. It took some time for me to remember who the different characters were and the pace seemed to slow, before picking up again later on. I was confused as to how the people, events and locations were connected, but I just went with the flow (pun intended) and sure enough it made more sense the more I read.

There was a hint of Thomas Hardy in the rural and small town settings, the pub environment, the narrator’s confident ownership of the story and the theme of uncertain identities. I also detected hints of Sarah Perry and Philip Pullman.

I liked the focus on storytelling. Not only is Diane Setterfield telling this story to us, the characters are telling stories to each other, and the one we have just read will be passed along until the tellers have been forgotten but the story will live on.

In summary this is a wonderful, moving and atmospheric novel which is worth diving into (another pun… sorry).

Once Upon A River will be published on 17th January 2019. Thank you to Transworld Publishers for an ARC via NetGalley.

22 thoughts on “Review of ‘Once Upon A River’ by Diane Setterfield”

    1. Thanks for your comment, much appreciated! There is a lot of buzz about this book already. If you read it, I’ll be interested to hear what you think πŸ™‚

  1. Wonderful review!
    I really liked the author’s other book, 13th tale, so this is defo on the list πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you Norrie! Glad you like my review.
      I’ve read the Thirteenth Tale but don’t remember much of it… was the day before I went into labour πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you Inge! Glad you like the puns. I’m afraid they are often a feature of my writing πŸ˜‰

  2. My review is coming up for the blog tour for this one. I’ve said in mine that the river is almost a character in itself! I loved this book. Such a great wintry read.

    1. Looking forward to your review! I thought the way the river is portrayed was very evocative and interesting. Glad you enjoyed the book. Thanks for your comment πŸ™‚

  3. Lovely review, the ambiguity is what makes this book so special I think (just like the ambiguity in The Essex Serpent) .

    1. I agree, there’s that slightly magic/mystical quality to the story which is intriguing.
      Thanks for your comment πŸ™‚

  4. I loved your puns! ? And absolutely loved what you said about the story living on! It truly was that epic of a story. Beautifully written review and so happy you loved this too!

    1. Thank you πŸ™‚
      Yes there’s an epic feel to the book, I’ll certainly remember it! Glad you enjoyed my review.

  5. I like the way you said this was infused with love of the river. Sounds like it was done well. And you’re definitely selling me on saying you detected hints of Pullman. Really like the sound of how atmospheric this is- great review!

    1. There is such a buzz, you’re right – it can take a while to get into the story and work out who the characters are, but the overall impression is of great storytelling.

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