Becky Spratford's Reviews > Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
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it was amazing

Three Words That Describe This Book: novel of place, captivating, character centered

An utterly captivating story about storytelling. Yes there is a plot, but really that plot is an excuse to tell stories.

Historical fiction but also literary with a touch of mystery and Gothic. Some call it magical realism, but I think the magical part is from the storytelling. More slightly askew.

Multiple points of view with a large ensemble cast. The setting is a small town with the pub where stories are told at the center. Many of the characters take a turn with the point of view and their stories all come together in a satisfying way. But like most books about stories, the book itself does not have a traditional beginning and end. This is but the story of 1 year in the life of this town where stories are important. It is amnestying eventful year, but this novelist simply a slice of life in the plea and time.

This story is about the upper Thames, its people, and the time. It is place specific. The river is a character.

This is a story that is character driven [river included] and intricately plotted-- but the intricacies of the plot are tied to the characters and their relationships [known and unknown]

There is also mention of the newer scientific ideas of evolution and psychology which I appreciated.

This is leisurely paced book, but it is not methodical. The leisure comes from the storytelling style and atmosphere. Things take their time to develop because you need to wait for the story to complete it's telling. A good story takes time, but you enjoy every moment of the telling.

There is a mystical sense to this story. It's action hinges on the solstices. The time frame is exactly a year-- winter solstice to winter solstice. Because the entire story is framed by a dramatic near death moment and the entire plot hinges on missing and/or dead children, the overall mood is not happy and light, but neither is it dark and oppressive. It is classic atmospheric- like a mist rolling over the river on a drizzling night.

Also the tone when you finish is uplifting. The things that happen in this novel, whether the actors agree on their explanations or not, whether good or bad, all lead toward everyone left behind to grow and improve in their relationships and as humans.

Readalikes: I kept thinking of Dickens when reading this. Also, HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY by Niffenegger. So there's England.

Luis Alberto Urrea's works are a great choice too. They are very rooted in a place [Mexico not England] and are about storytelling with magical realism.

Two other books I have read and enjoyed which are also "novels of place" that are lyrical and about the story of a place as much as the people who live there are SING, UNBURY, SING by Ward and THE ROUND HOUSE by Erdrich

Source list at end off this novel is excellent but I think anything by Henry Taunt, the real map maker who the character Daunt is based on, but Daunt is based on is worth a read. THE NEW MAP OF THE THAMES.
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Reading Progress

January 31, 2019 – Started Reading
January 31, 2019 – Shelved
February 8, 2019 – Finished Reading

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Mayleen I literally imagined myself floating down the Thames the while time I was reading this. Perfect imagery. Loved it.


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