I was provided a free ARC copy of Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield, courtesy of Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: December 4, 2018
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Official Blurb (courtesy of NetGalley)
On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? These questions have many answers, some of them quite dark indeed.
Those who dwell on the river bank apply all their ingenuity to solving the puzzle of the girl who died and lived again, yet as the days pass the mystery only deepens. The child herself is mute and unable to answer the essential questions: Who is she? Where did she come from? And to whom does she belong? But answers proliferate nonetheless.
Three families are keen to claim her. A wealthy young mother knows the girl is her kidnapped daughter, missing for two years. A farming family reeling from the discovery of their son’s secret liaison, stand ready to welcome their granddaughter. The parson’s housekeeper, humble and isolated, sees in the child the image of her younger sister. But the return of a lost child is not without complications and no matter how heartbreaking the past losses, no matter how precious the child herself, this girl cannot be everyone’s. Each family has mysteries of its own, and many secrets must be revealed before the girl’s identity can be known.
Once Upon a River had a lyrical and fluid way in the way it was written. This is explained by the narrator as being like the river and having tributaries that lead into it, and no definite starting point. With that in mind, the reader is treated to the main story (the main river) and the different stories of the main characters connected to the mysterious girl found in the beginning chapters of the book (the tributaries).
The story itself was mostly fiction with a hint of fantasy. The characters were enjoyable and each added their own spice to the story without taking over too much. My favorite character would have to be Rita Sunday, a nurse with an analytical mind and no time for nonsense. But, as the story progresses, we see her grow less set in her ways and allow herself more hope and love in her life.
I also enjoyed Mr. Armstrong’s character. He’s a big man with a big heart, giving people the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. He loves and cares for his family, animals, and farm, and only wishes to do what is right by those in his heart.
My only complaint is, that while the story was written beautifully, it did seem to drag a bit. Of course, as I think about it, the story truly does move like a river in its telling. It ebbs and flows, goes back and forth, goes fast and slow. This is definitely not a book you can read in one or two sittings, and will take some time to digest.
I give Once Upon a River four stars for being a beautiful story with an intriguing mystery.