ONCE UPON A RIVER by Diane Setterfield

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A beautifully written book set in a small town in England sometime during the reign of Queen Victoria. The town is located along the banks of the Thames river (maybe, as Setterfield herself indicates). It is the same river passing through London,meandering by Oxford and other towns along the bank and it provides the center point for a novel describing events in and around Radcot, one of these towns during another time and place. The “Swan” is the locale near Radcot where the local folk go to enjoy drink and companionship after the day’s work is done.

One day, a man, obviously hurt, staggers into the “Swan” carrying what appears to be a dead little girl. After putting her down he collapses but later disappears. In the meanwhile the little girl proves that she is alive by waking up and astounding the patrons of the tavern by doing so. In the course of time three families claim that the now living, but unfortunately mute girl is, theirs, resulting in many differences of opinion among the residents of the area. The gist of the novel revolves about the thoughts and actions of the various factions setting up a novel written in a style reminiscent of books penned in the period described.

While other readers claim that the novel is a sort of fairy tale there is enough low key descriptions of sex, murder, and evil to dispel this idea. What the book is is a well written story which will keep the reader glued to the pages. There was a long period between this novel and Setterfield’s previous book and reading this one gives rise to the hope that it won’t be that long until her next one appears.

12/18 Paul Lane

ONCE UPON A RIVER by Diane Setterfield. Atria/Emily Bestler Books (December 4, 2018).  ISBN 978-0743298070. 480p.

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