Book Review

Once Upon a River – Diane Setterfield

An historical drama told like a fairy tale with more than a hint of magical realism. This author lured me away from the opening pages into her imagined world where dead girls come alive, where evil men are punished, and where, gathered around a crackling fireplace in an English inn with tankards of ale, pleasant company, and hospitable hosts, great tales are told. Reminiscent of both Chaucer and Dickens, Once Upon a River is a sweeping epic of a fairy tale, with richly painted characters – from an abused farmgirl who longs to run away to a wealthy couple grieving the kidnapping of their child to an intelligent, caring father trying to make contact with his wayward son. Add in a nurse who’s on the scene when the drowned child is brought to the inn alongside an itinerant photographer, a world in the 1870’s which is awakening to the writings of Charles Darwin and the dawning of psychiatry, and not only a prescient fortune-teller but a wise pig, and you’ve got yourself enough wonder, mystery, emotion, and intrigue to propel you through the 460 pages of this epic, lyrical, and ultimately uplifting novel. Highly recommended and unlike anything else you will read this year.