Once Upon A River

Once Upon A River

A Novel

Book - 2018
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"One of the most pleasurable and satisfying new books I've read in a long time. Setterfield is a master storyteller...swift and entrancing, profound and beautiful." --Madeline Miller, internationally bestselling author of Circe and The Song of Achilles

"A beguiling tale, full of twists and turns like the river at its heart, and just as rich and intriguing." --M.L. Stedman, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Light Between Oceans

"This is magical, bewitching storytelling...High prose expressed with rare clarity, story for the unashamed sake of story, a kind of moral dreaminess...well, the list continues to grow."--Jim Crace, National Book Critics Circle winner and author of Being Dead and Harvest

From the instant #1 New York Times bestselling author of the "eerie and fascinating" ( USA TODAY ) The Thirteenth Tale comes a richly imagined, powerful new novel about the wrenching disappearance of three little girls and the wide-reaching effect it has on their small town.

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 is a glorious tapestry of a book that combines folklore and science, magic and myth. Suspenseful, romantic, and richly atmospheric, the beginning of this novel will sweep you away on a powerful current of storytelling, transporting you through worlds both real and imagined, to the triumphant conclusion whose depths will continue to give up their treasures long after the last page is turned.
Publisher: New York :, Emily Bestler Books, Atria,, 2018.
Edition: First Emily Bestler BooksAtria Books hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9780743298070
0743298071
Branch Call Number: FICTION Setterfi Diane 11/2018
Characteristics: 464 pages ;,24 cm

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JCLBetM Nov 25, 2019

This fairytale set in the real-world of England along the Thames (but still long, long ago), gently weaves a sense of magic around the rawness of aching everyday humanity. While the story unfolds slowly, the characters draw you in and the questions of their lives lend enough mystery to keep you r... Read More »

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JCLMeghanF Apr 30, 2019

Setterfield has created a charming, magical tale that twists and turns much like the river Thames upon which this story is set. Centering around the miraculous recovery of a drowned little girl, the story follows the investigation into her identity, bringing to light many devastating secrets alon... Read More »


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mabrazeau Apr 14, 2020

The beautiful writing, intriguing plot and interesting construction of this book kept me asking for more. I absorbed it at the cost of sleep. Its magic stays with you - I have been replaying certain moments in my head for the last two weeks.

Although the story and its conclusion are very satisfying, I was disappointed by the epilogue which felt like it was written by someone else. I would still recommend reading this novel.

s
styellow
Apr 07, 2020

Really good story telling. It's sad and sweet and funny. It's a folk tale and a bit of historical fiction together. It's fantasy and science. It's the kind of good story you could watch with your parents on BBC. I definitely recommend this story.

j
janiedobbs
Jan 28, 2020

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.

CCPL_Laura Jan 15, 2020

Once Upon a River is an absorbing, atmospheric novel that begs to be read slowly, savored, and not rushed or skimmed. The little girl's arrival sparks an interesting scientific and fantastical discussion on life, death, and the in-between. Setterfield writes the narrative like the tributaries leading to the Thames -- little, seemingly insignificant stories and characters grow and develop into a powerful flood of emotion, drama, and enlightenment by the story's end. Readers who adored Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, and those who enjoy the gothic historicals like The Miniturist and The Bear and the Nightingale, will find plenty to enjoy and discover in this novel.

f
feralranger
Dec 09, 2019

This novel is captivating. It invites you into its storytelling. There are several great reviews here that compliment it better than I can.
I’ve read a wide range of books this year from all genres and I thought I had a definite favorite for the year picked out until I read this. It would be difficult so close to the end of 2019 to find a finer piece of writing.

JCLBetM Nov 25, 2019

This fairytale set in the real-world of England along the Thames (but still long, long ago), gently weaves a sense of magic around the rawness of aching everyday humanity. While the story unfolds slowly, the characters draw you in and the questions of their lives lend enough mystery to keep you reading. I look forward to reading more from this author.

a
atchfive
Aug 26, 2019

Exceptional writing. Takes you on a journey back in time with great character development and story telling. It took me awhile to truly appreciate it but by the end I was so thoroughly absorbed and involved. And what a surprise ending.

e
EljayJohnson
Jul 20, 2019

There is no way I should have liked this book. Lots of nature, hunting, fishing, skinning muskrats, living off the land, backwoods folks, and birds. My favorite things (not)!

However, I loved it. Margo Crane is a heroine to remember. I felt like I was in a dream as I read this book; that's how transported and swept away I was. Margo is a river wild child who the men in her life are always trying to define. They even rename her: Maggie, Nymph, Margaret Louise, etc. They rape her, love her, abandon her, attempt to change and control her, but she finds her own way on her own terms. The only person who accepted her for who she truly was makes it possible for her to live her own life, a gift Margo knows how to appreciate. The writing was exquisite, the story unique, and the characters unusual and fascinating without being unbelievable. This was a great start to the new year. It's going to be hard to top.

i
INVS
Jul 13, 2019

Oh yes, this is so worth the meandering, just like the unnumbered paths of the Thames. I suppose some readers find it dull, so it seems one might be a 'fan' of Setterfield or not. The only thing that could have made it better for me - the audiobook, read by Jack Davenport. this is the kind of book I love to give up my time for, to put off anything else, it will stay with me for ages. While reading this I thought of my enjoyment and often read books by Rutherfurd or Pillars of the Earth, with loved stories of Britain, history.

This book caused me to take notes, get out the map of Britain, go to websites for reference; it made me remember tales of mudlarks that comb the Thames at low tide; her comments about the unaccountable items tossed or lost into the river over centuries. Setterfield can describe a lovemaking scene that far exceeds any from incipit, labored, embellished writings that abound by those whose only object is to titillate. I did not find this 'Gothic' in any manner. One review by IndyPl.... was an excellent synopsis.

This author is excellent with research, then telling the story with intricate detail in ways one might never consider, but she can lead one to investigate further. To venture onto these walking paths is a lifetime experience, much cherished memories.

IndyPL_SteveB Jun 29, 2019

A fascinating new novel by the author of one of my favorite books, *The Thirteenth Tale.*

In the 1870s, there is a tavern on the upper reaches of the River Thames. The Swan at Radcot is especially known for the quality of its storytellers. They have many different stories of local past events, like the long-ago Battle of Radcot Bridge or the mysterious Quietly the Ferryman, who appears to save people in trouble on the River “before their time.” But tonight they will have a story walk into the tavern, a story that will last for years.

A stranger with a bloody face staggers into the tavern, with a young girl in his arms, and collapses. The girl appears to be dead but some time later, she revives. The man does not know who she is; he found her floating in the river after he hit a bridge with his boat. As the days pass, three different families claim the girl. A true explanation will not be simple because everyone has long-hidden secrets. And we don’t know for many pages if we reading a mystery, a family story, or even a ghost story.

Setterfield herself assumes the role of storyteller, as the person who knows the story but who will carefully dole it out, building the tension until the moment of clarity at the end. To do this, she allows each character to tell his or her own story, piling on multiple layers of story like different colors on a painting until the picture is revealed.

I have seen some online complaints that the book is dull, that nothing happens. This is not true, of course. Much happens but it happens quietly. Not every author has to be James Patterson. There is plenty of room out there for the quiet storyteller who slowly pulls you in like quicksand. This book will stick with you a long time.

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