Diane Setterfield masterfully takes you on a magical historical journey submerging you in the River Thames as it winds its way through Oxfordshire. The Den were riveted with this spell-binding read, tangible characters and lyrical, layered storytelling.

Readability

★★★★★★★★★✰

Talkability

★★★★★★★★★✰

Den scores

★★★★★★★★★✰

ONCE UPON A RIVER

BY DIANE SETTERFIELD

507 pages

Diane Setterfield masterfully takes you on a magical historical journey submerging you in the River Thames as it winds its way through Oxfordshire. Starting and ending at The Swan at Radcot, Setterfield’s skilful storytelling and meticulously constructed narrative make for a gripping and wonderfully absorbing page turner.

The Swan is an ancient inn on the river with a tradition of storytelling. One night the regular drinkers find themselves involved in their own story when a badly injured man arrives at the door carrying what looks like a large puppet but turns out to be the motionless drowned body of a small child. Events take a further twist as the seemingly dead child supernaturally wakes up. Unable to speak, she cannot tell anyone who she is or where she has come from. As events unfold, the identity of the child is questioned as three families make claim to be her parents.

The mystery child brings good and evil together. With her magnetic hold over everyone she comes into contact with, gradually the stories and places intertwine, just like the tributaries of a river. The backdrop of nature and scientific references vividly draw the reader into a magical journey as the vulnerability of those affected by the child’s arrival are laid bare. Rita is not a qualified doctor, but recognised in the local villages as the “go to” person for any ailments. Her passion for nature and its healing powers enhance the beauty of this gothic novel.

The Den were riveted with this spell-binding story, the tangible characters and lyrical, layered storytelling. Setterfield explores all the river’s secrets with a hypnotic beauty – a riveting and thoroughly enjoyable read.

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