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REVIEW: Once Upon A River

“A river no more begins at its source than a story begins with the first page.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

I had heard about this Sunday Times Bestseller being a truly magical book that combined Gothic elements and fantasy within its historical and mystical setting. So when I heard it was everything I love in one beautiful book, how could I not want to immerse myself in its pages. My amazing boyfriend, who I haven’t seen for nearly six weeks now, surprised me by buying the eBook for me from my Amazon wish list. I will never stop loving that boy.

What Did I Think?

Firstly, let me just say that I have not read a book like this one before. Ever. Diane Setterfield deserves more recognition than I could ever give her alone. This masterpiece could make those who had never dreamt of writing before, want to pick up a pen or open a new Word document and begin. Why, you may ask. Because I have honestly never experienced storytelling like this before. Diane Setterfield does a beautiful job of setting the scene and by doing so, she makes you feel like you’ve just tucked yourself in to be told a great secret. The secret of the river and the power of the stories it holds. 

The opening chapter had me hooked from the start and the fact that it could be based on the river Thames makes it even more closer to home. The overall story, without ruining it for you, is that a little girl is pulled from the river banks and she could belong to any one of the three families who have recently lost their little girl. The mystery of her appearance uncovers the secrets held by the community surrounding the river and the discovery leaves you holding the book closer to you, afraid of missing a single moment.

I’m struggling to put this book into a specific genre as it has elements of Gothic, fantasy and historical fiction running through it and to put it in a category would be to take away its magic. What I can say is that it reminds me of folklore. One that perhaps is heard by many who journey up and down the river. 

“There are stories that may be told aloud, and stories that must be told in whispers, and there are stories that are never told at all.”

Diane Setterfield also plays upon this folklore theme by writing perfectly about the power of storytelling and how stories develop from the very first telling to the most recent. There are some compelling quotes in this book, that once you’ve read them, you just have to take a moment and think, wow…what a sentence!

“For one thing, the river that flows ever onwards is also seeping sideways, irrigating the fields and land to one side and the other. It finds its way into wells and is drawn up to launder petticoats and be boiled for tea. It is sucked into root membranes, travels up cell by cell to the surface, is held in the leaves of watercress”

I would say that even though I was hooked from the start and that the story is magnificent, I would not particularly class this read as a ‘page-turner’. The chapters are longer than I would normally like and it does take a while for things to begin to unfold. However, don’t let that stop you from delving into this book. It may not be a ‘page-turner’ but something else keeps you reading on. Something truly spell-binding. I’ll let you experience that one for yourself. 

I do get quite sad when I finish magical books like this one. I felt like I went on a real journey with this book and as I was reading it, I was transported onto the very banks of the river, watching events unfold and helping to solve the mystery. It truly was an amazing experience and one I shall never forget. It deserves every single star I give it. And more. 

“And now, dear reader, the story is over. It is time for you to cross the bridge once more and return to the world you came from. This river, which is and is not the Thames, must continue flowing without you. You have haunted here long enough, and besides, you surely have rivers of your own to attend to?”

Once Upon A River

Rating: 5 out of 5.


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