Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

1. First lines. 2. Publisher: Penguin 3. Map image from inside the book. 4. The Swan Hotel Radcot by Bill Nichols. Licence: cc-by-sa 2.0 via geograph UK
I really liked this book.
A very pleasant and satisfying read.

On Winter Solstice in 19th Century England, a young child is pulled from the River Thames, seemingly drowned. But she is revived, and three different families lay claim to her. The story unravels the mystery of who the child is, and where she belongs.

“When she had done the laundry (and ironed the sheets and made the bed and mopped the floors and beaten the rugs and scrubbed the tiles and filled the log baskets and got the soot off the hearth and polished the furniture and shaken the curtains and knocked air into the cushions and gone round all the picture and mirror frames with a feather duster and put a shine on all the taps with vinegar and cooked the parson’s dinner and set it ready on the table under a cloth, and washed up and cleaned the stove and left everything in the kitchen neat and tidy) Lily went and knocked on the study door.”

“‘I always done right by you, didn’t I, Lil?’ ‘Always,’ she responded, and before she answered she made a silent apology to God for lying. God understood that there were times a person just couldn’t tell the truth.”

“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.”

Quotes from the book.
  • Washington Post: The river acts as both setting and character, a force in the everyday lives of its neighbors. Though Setterfield writes emotions with marvelous truth and subtlety, her most stunning prose is reserved for evocative descriptions of the natural world, creating an immersive experience made of light, texture, scent and sensation.”
  • The Guardian: “It cannot be called a page-turner, certainly not in the order of the previous book, yet ultimately it is a success. While the first third meanders and often had this reader wondering where it was going and what the point of it all might be, it does accumulate enough emotional power to make the revelations that finally come genuinely moving.”

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