Book Review – Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

First published, 2018

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The story is set on the River Thames in 1887 and follows the lives, loves and hardships of a group of people living between Oxford and Cricklade. The drinkers at the Swan are a great group with a penchant for storytelling and beer, who revise their stories with every telling.

One night, a man nobody knows, bloodied and soaked to the skin, staggers into the pub with what appears to be a doll in his arms. The man soon passes out through exhaustion and injury, and the ‘doll’ is swept from his arms. It transpires the ‘doll’ is, in fact, a child, who appears to have drowned. As the locals attend to the man, the child is removed to a peaceful area and, miraculously, comes back to life.

With a mixture of heartache, deception and hope, several families come to believe the child may belong to them and, in the reading, my heart rose and fell for every one of them.

Beautifully written, with deeply lyrical prose, memorable characters, twists, turns and full-throated emotion, I loved this story and can’t wait to read it again.

Highly recommended.