Diane setterfield once upon a river
Once Upon a River by Diane SetterfieldOn a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? These questions have many answers, some of them quite dark indeed.
Those who dwell on the river bank apply all their ingenuity to solving the puzzle of the girl who died and lived again, yet as the days pass the mystery only deepens. The child herself is mute and unable to answer the essential questions: Who is she? Where did she come from? And to whom does she belong? But answers proliferate nonetheless.
Three families are keen to claim her. A wealthy young mother knows the girl is her kidnapped daughter, missing for two years. A farming family reeling from the discovery of their son’s secret liaison, stand ready to welcome their granddaughter. The parson’s housekeeper, humble and isolated, sees in the child the image of her younger sister. But the return of a lost child is not without complications and no matter how heartbreaking the past losses, no matter how precious the child herself, this girl cannot be everyone’s. Each family has mysteries of its own, and many secrets must be revealed before the girl’s identity can be known.
Once Upon a River is a glorious tapestry of a book that combines folklore and science, magic and myth. Suspenseful, romantic, and richly atmospheric, the beginning of this novel will sweep you away on a powerful current of storytelling, transporting you through worlds both real and imagined, to the triumphant conclusion whose depths will continue to give up their treasures long after the last page is turned.
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Thank you! At the Swan, an inn along the river, storytellers gather to spin their magic on cold winter nights. But not even the most creative teller can compete with the horror of reality when a stranger, horribly beaten, arrives at the door, clutching a dead child. She may even be, the denizens of the Swan acknowledge in whispers, and stranger still, the long-lost daughter of the phantom ferryman who patrols the Thames, saving those who fall in before their time and taking those whose time has come to the other side of that vast, mercurial expanse. Setterfield masterfully assembles an ensemble of wounded, vulnerable characters who, nevertheless, live by the slimmest margins of hope—hope that springs from family, from the search for meaning, from people's decency to strangers, from the belief that truth heals and sets one free.
The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic?
As readers, we know all novels are fiction, but sometimes we forget. In the early pages of the book, these stories are their own versions of what happens one cold, dark night when a mud- and blood-soaked man staggers into the Swan carrying the body of a little girl. Is she the kidnapped daughter of a well-off local couple taken two years ago, who rejoice at her potential return? The characters Setterfield devises for the novel are every bit as colorful and mysterious as you would hope them to be. There are shadowy figures galore: stinking tramps and disguised fortune-tellers, wastrel sons and unpredictable madams, goodhearted parsons and psychics who may or may not be real psychics.
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Table of Contents
Once Upon a River takes more than a few pages to begin properly, even though it kicks off with a promisingly dramatic event that electrifies the regulars at the Swan, a riverside inn in Oxfordshire renowned for the quality of its storytellers. On the evening of a winter solstice in the 19th century, a drenched man with a bashed-in face bursts through the door with what appears to be a large doll.