I, like thousands of others, had read Diane Setterfield's bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Now, I can't remember when I read it. Or even how it ended. But I recall really enjoying it. (Yes, that's probably evidence that I read too many books and I really can't keep track of all of them.) When Once Upon a River showed up at my house last year, I was intrigued simply because of Setterfield's name. Then I read the synopsis. Even more intriguing. And when I was finished? I was a little bit in love.
Here's the synopsis:
A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.This was such a well-told story. I found myself calling it a sort of fable or fairy tale. It was set in a real world but had a sense of the mystical about it, what with all the storytelling and the little girl who was dead and then she wasn't. Or was she? I loved the way Setterfield wrote this novel so much I found myself reading aloud to my colleague as I just couldn't keep such wonderful phrases to myself.
Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle?
Is it magic?
Or can it be explained by science?
Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.
I was emotionally invested from the start. Invested in the whole story and every character I met along the way - and there were a lot of characters. You'd actually think it could get confusing with so many people involved but it wasn't. Setterfield keeps each thread untangled and then masterfully weaves the threads together into an ending that is oh so satisfying.
I really liked reading the customs and folklore of the people and communities Setterfield created. Each town along the river had something it was known for and, being a reader and lover of stories, I really liked that the town the little girl landed in was known for their stories. I could perfectly imagine sitting by the fire at The Swan with a mug of ale or cider and listening to Joe tell his stories. Not only could I imagine it but I wanted to be there. Setterfield created a world that totally and completely drew me in.
And how lovely is this cover? I think it perfectly captures the feel of the novel.
I highly recommend reading Once Upon a River. It's such a delight and a wonderful mix of historical fiction and fairy tales. If you're in a book club, you should consider suggesting Diane Setterfield's latest novel - I think you'll all have a lot to talk about.
*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*