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: SETTERFI
Characteristics: 464 pages ; 24 cm

Opinion

From Library Staff

Recommended! 1870s River Thames environs England, lyrical mystical compelling haunting & hopeful, twisty tale of community storytelling and mystery

Comment
LPL_ShirleyB Jul 27, 2020

An immersive, mythical, twisty & hopeful tale of community, storytelling and mystery that is rooted on the River Thames.
It's a book I would love to discuss in a book club.


From the critics


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m
maipenrai
Mar 21, 2021

Disappointing to me. This child is more feral than she realizes when first introduced to the idea. Her heroine is Annie Oakley. She takes better care of the guns in her life than the people to the point of being complicit in one murder and outright committing another. Though the latter may have been justifiable homicide, she does not recognize the idea of engaging law enforcement in the event. I am sorry to say I did not care what happened to her. 1 paw up from Abby Tabby and Kristi

l
LisaMoore1985
Mar 15, 2021

*rounded up to 2.5 stars*. I wanted to like this book so much, and for the most of it I did. I really had to force myself at the end to finish. This book is so heavy with details and background, that the actual enjoyment of the story gets lost. Nothing really happens in the book till almost the very end. Yes you know in the beginning that a man is brought to the swan with injuries and a dead child in his arms. That the child is dead but then comes back to life, being mute and not able to say who she really is. Three families all missing girls around the same age make claims to her, but it isn't till the end you find out. The whole middle of the book is weighted down with the story of these three families and their backgrounds. Yes the book wrapped up nicely with answering the mystery, but the journey to get there, was just too much. Hence the low rating. I have the author's other book The Thirteenth Tale on my shelf, and there it has sat unread for years. There it might sit as I just didn't enjoy her writing and all the details. I like details in books don't get me wrong and will get upset if there are hardly any, but I didn't need close to 500 pages of weight.

It takes a few chapters to become wholly absorbed by this charming tale. Set in rural Victorian England the locals at the Swan Pub are simple and prone to superstition. I loved the humanity of the characters and the reality of life in poverty without a social safety net. Seen through the eyes of the locals there is magic controlling their lives.
Nevertheless, the age of science is encroaching on the villages along the Thames, gently introduced by the nurse and photographer. The story is unforgettable.

a
adanielle
Jan 21, 2021

gave up around page 240 because it was losing focus and going nowhere. too slow. not worth another 200+ pages to finish

LPL_ShirleyB Jul 27, 2020

An immersive, mythical, twisty & hopeful tale of community, storytelling and mystery that is rooted on the River Thames.
It's a book I would love to discuss in a book club.

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.

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