Once Upon a River

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This will be a short review, but it’s just because I am writing this on Friday at midnight. I still enjoyed the book quite a bit, even if it took me about a month to finish.

So, I read, reviewed, and enjoyed Diane Setterfield’s other book, The Thirteenth Tale, a while ago. Both books are similar in that they have a very dreamy, fairy tale-eques feel with a plot that leaves some open ends and is more about the journey than the destination.

A dead little girl and an injured man are brought to an inn that is known for its storytellers one night in the middle of winter. The patrons are surprised to see such a sight, and though they are used to tall tales, they are even more surprised by what happens next. Miraculously, the little girl appears to come back from the dead, and by the end of the night there are many more questions than answers. The most important questions are who the little girl is and where she came from. Three different families claim that she is theirs, but the little girl cannot answers questions herself.

I think Setterfield really excels in portraying the fairy tale atmosphere as well as in her characterization. There’s a dreamy, on-the-edge-of-reality feel to the entire novel. And I like that some aspects of the plot are left up to the reader’s interpretation. This book perhaps isn’t for people who like clear cut explanations in their plot lines. Also, since there are a lot of characters and separate storylines, you have to be okay with not quite knowing where the plot is going at the start. We are introduced to several different families and their pasts near the beginning. The characters feel well rounded and realistic, but at some points I was wondering how it all tied together. So, you have to be okay with going with the flow and trusting the author will tie the plot lines together. And eventually she does in a way that I felt was satisfying.

To me, the novel felt like taking a ride along a winding river– you take it slow, enjoy the scenery, and you just float along enjoying the experience. Then eventually the river merges with other tributaries and they all come together into the main body of water– of the main thread of the plot. So, if that doesn’t sound like fun, then maybe the book isn’t your thing. There’s some pretty writing and descriptions, which again, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a book that feels cozy somehow. There’s also a common theme of the power that a person’s story can have and the way that different people interpret events can lead to unique perspectives of the same events.

It’s a really brilliant bit of escapism. I would say that it is definitely my kind of novel, similar to something like The Snow Child or The Night Tiger, so I gave it a solid four out of five stars.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s