Once Upon a River

Diane Setterfield, 2018

A mysterious child appears.  No one knows who she is, and everyone wants her to be the child they thought they had lost.  Does anyone in this 19th-century English riverside town have a right to claim guardianship?

A hard-hitting legal thriller filled with conflict? No – in actuality, this is a gentle, meandering tale in which the physical world and the world of folklore exist alongside each other.  Magical realism and folklore provide as many answers to the puzzle as does real-world logic.

This is a story of storytelling – an art that predates the written word.  As such, the book, narrated by the excellent Juliet Stevenson, is best experienced in audio format. Stevenson’s unhurried style and beautifully modulated voice bring to life Diane Setterfield’s cast of characters including storytellers, pigs, horses, dragons, people both real and mythical, and a river – most of all, a river. One of the main characters is loosely based on photographer Henry Taunt, who loved and photographed the River Thames.

Diane Setterfield also wrote Bellman & Black and The Thirteenth Tale.  I have read and will separately review the latter, and I’m adding the former to my reading list.

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