Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 16+ hours
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Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield, narrated by Juliet Stevenson, is my 6th book from the 12 friends 12 books reading challenge. It is a collection of intertwined stories set along the River Thames, in which a baby miraculously comes back to life after drowning. These are river stories in which family secrets continue to float to the surface. From a midwife who has given up on love and having a husband or children who a small town relies on more than physicians to a family whose daughter was taken and ransomed and an educated Black farm owner who is looking for his son’s wife, Setterfield has created quite a cast of characters, but the star is that river.

Like her novel, The Thirteenth Tale, this one is deeply atmospheric. The river is as much a character as Mrs. White, the Vaughns, the Armstrongs, nurse Rita, and so many others. There are so many families and secrets to be unraveled, but they are done with the slow flow of the river. The miraculously recovered girl is a mystery to be solved — who are her parents, who threw her into the river, and who took her?

The Swan Inn and the town is a place where stories are woven and rewoven. Setterfield wants her readers to dive deep into this story, making it unlikely you will come up for air until the end. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield is engaging, but like The Thirteenth Tale, it felt too long to me and I cared more about some of the characters than others. There was a wrapping up of loose ends, which I appreciated, but those also seemed too long to reach.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Diane Setterfield is a British author. Her debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale (2006) was published in 38 countries worldwide and has sold more than three million copies. It was number one in the New York Times hardback fiction list for three weeks and is enjoyed as much for being ‘a love letter to reading’ as for its mystery and style. Her second novel is Bellman & Black (2013), an unusual genre-defying meditation on workaholism, Victorian mourning ritual and rooks, and her third, Once Upon a River, was published in 2019.

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  1. I read this years ago and remember it sometimes when I hear a story about a river in England or meet a smug southerner https://necromancyneverpays.wordpress.com/2019/06/06/once-upon-a-river/

    • I like elements of Setterfield’s stories, but they never seem to wow me like other writers do. This was just an OK read for me — nothing made me want to DNF it really, but it didn’t make feel like I needed to finish it.