ONCE UPON A RIVER by Diane Setterfield
Kirkus Star


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In Setterfield’s (Bellman and Black, 2014, etc.) new novel, a town by the River Thames is deeply shaken and inspired by the arrival—and apparent resurrection—of a mysterious young girl.

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. As Rita, the local nurse and midwife, gently takes stock of the man’s injuries, she also realizes that the child is not dead, though no one seems to know who she is. Soon enough, two possibilities arise: She might be the kidnapped daughter of a local businessman, or she might be the daughter of a local farmer’s scoundrel son. 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. Despite the harsh vagaries of the river, it also brings the promise of life and the peace of death and, Setterfield reminds us, the never-ending, transformative power of stories. And stories, in turn, expose our humanity—the best and worst of humankind, and somewhere in between, the quiet, unremarkable connections, the small gestures, the perfect heartbreaks that give our lives meaning.

Celebrates the timeless secrets of life, death, and imagination—and the enduring power of words. Fans, rejoice! Definitely more The Thirteenth Tale than Bellman and Black.

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9807-0
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Emily Bestler/Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2018


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