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Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

I was actually going to save this review for an overall ‘what I’ve been reading lately’ styled post, sharing a brief overview of a few books I’ve read recently. However, after the story captivating me from the beginning with its whimsical story-telling and its compelling characters, I had to dedicate an entire post to this gorgeous novel alone.

Author: Diane Setterfield          Published: January 2019         Pages: 480          Rating: 5* stars

This is story-telling at its finest. Once Upon a River is a gorgeous historical fairy-tale intertwined with mystery, hovering over the line between life as we know it and magical realism. Set in a small English village along the banks of the Thames, this story flows seamlessly like the river itself.
Along the borders of this world lie others.
There are places you can cross.
This is one such place.
Setterfield’s story takes place in an ordinary English village where the only adventures that take place are in the stories shared and spread by the townspeople. At The Swan pub, all the regulars are swapping their stories and unwinding after a day’s work during the evening of the winter’s solstice. Everything is as normal when something miraculous happens. An injured man bursts into The Swan with a doll-like figure draped over his arms. Everyone is fussing over the wounded man when they realise, the figure he brought in is a young dead girl. A girl who has just come back to life. The townspeople are quick to concoct their own theories and stories, attempting to unscramble the mystery over how she came back alive and figure out the child’s identity. Is she the grandchild of Mr Armstrong? Is there any chance she could be Lily White’s little sister? Or, perhaps she is the daughter of the Vaughans who went missing two years prior to the night’s events? However, the girl doesn’t speak. She merely looks out towards the river longing for something down its waterway. This introduction alone was enough to pull me in.

This is a story rife with compelling, likeable characters. Setterfield has created a community in which we feel a part of after just a few chapters. Each of them, as ordinary as they may seem in their working-class village, have dark secrets and pasts that will inevitably come back to discomfit them. It is through the unveiling of their past that the plot slowly unravels, even the most minutiae of details having significance to the plot’s climax.

It is the magical realism that makes this story so captivating. The line between reality and the supernatural fissures as folklore and superstition play into the characters’ everyday lives. Tales of ghosts, the supernatural mystery of the girl and fortune-telling spread throughout the town like wildfire, the villagers not knowing what to believe. Can a young girl who was found dead really come back to life?

Most importantly, this is a book about story-telling. Setterfield explores its power as folklore finds itself embedded in each of the characters’ individual stories. The young girl is just one mystery which opens the window to a story teeming with various plots, background history and twists which will keep you guessing until the end.

This is an enchanting tale with a timeless quality in which every intricate detail is significant. It is an atmospheric, character-driven novel where magic can be found in the mundane. Savour this story. Absorb every meticulous detail. Let it entrance you. I couldn’t recommend this epic fairy-tale more and I can’t wait to read more by Setterfield. This is how you tell a story.

Thank you Atria Books and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review!

You can find out more about the book here on Goodreads.
Preorder the book here.

Thanks for reading!



    • eviejayne eviejayne

      Thank you! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did ✨ x

  1. This sounds like such a beautiful story! I love what you said about magic being found in the mundane! Terrific review!

    • eviejayne eviejayne

      I just loved the magical realism in this story! Thank you so much, I hope you enjoy this as much as I do if you get around to reading it!

  2. I’m really looking forward to this one – I love the author already so have high expectations. Glad to see a glowing review, I’ve only skimmed this for now as I like to go into the read blissfully ignorant but I will return and read this fully once I’ve finished the book.
    Lynn 😀

    • eviejayne eviejayne

      Yeah I can’t wait to read more by her. Hahaha that’s fine by me! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did ✨

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