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Once Upon a River Audio CD – Unabridged, 4 December 2018
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Audio CD, Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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About the Author
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster Audio; Unabridged edition (4 December 2018)
- Language : English
- Audio CD : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1508256772
- ISBN-13 : 978-1508256779
- Dimensions : 13.02 x 3.56 x 14.61 cm
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from Australia
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The book is peopled with a marvellous cast of characters, including the story telling regulars at the Swan. Many readers will love Rita, the orphaned, convent-reared spinster nurse with an enlightened, scientific cast of mind. There’s a nasty character lurking in the background who turns out to be pulling strings behind the scenes. Diane Setterfield does a brilliant job of evoking the complex interweaving of Victorian river life as it rains and rains. The Thames eventually floods. The regulars discuss the strange notion that humans are descended from apes. Daunt sets up his photography business on a boat and becomes involved in the unfolding drama. Anthony Vaughan eventually unburdens his soul to the wise Mrs Constantine who practises the new discipline of psychology in Oxford. This is such a rewarding book that I’m going to download her others immediately.
The tale moves slowly because of the many characters and their own interesting stories. The central tale is the mystery of the drowned child who is recovered from the river, pronounced dead and who comes back to life and who she really is..
I previously read and loved 'The Thirteenth Tale' and this book is just as beautifully written.
The story flows at a gradual and gentle pace, but there is a sense of foreboding throughout ...."something is going to happen." Several stories are interwoven and each story changes the direction as surely as the river.
It captured and held my interest throughout, as did the descriptive "slice of life" in 19th Century rural, village and town settings in England - at a time when superstitions were rife, and yet scientific thinking and questioning were emerging. Diane Setterfield took me right back there in time - with her atmospheric storytelling. There were hints of the style of Thomas Hardy, especially with the use of the local dialect.
Top reviews from other countries
Once Upon a River is a story which stands on the cusp of myth and reason. Lily see visions of a dead child, the river folk tell stories of the Ferryman, a grey figure who saves from the river those whose time has not yet come, but who also ferries others "to the other side". The forces of reason opposing them are headed by Rita, a self taught medic and amateur scientist, and Daunt, a photographer.
The story which flows from these sources is one of blackmail and murder, of wicked step-siblings and benevolent parentlng, of spiritualism, fortune telling and illicit distilling, of late flowering love and of pig rearing. One the subject of porcine husbandry, the brief reference to a character called Lord Embury, is surely a nod to P G Wodehouse.
The book's strongest suit is the plotting, which is intricate and satisfying, even if at least one loose end, relating to one of the lost children, is tied up a little too neatly and easily. The complexity of the plot is as it should be in a book whose main theme is storytelling. Indeed there is a hint that the main narrative is actually being told as a story at the Swan, rather than being the subject of the book itself.
Once Upon a River has similarities with the author's first novel, the Thirteenth Tale. The historical setting is never explicitly stated, I would guess at late Victorian, early Edwardian. One also gets a feeling of an author trying a little too hard to reproduce the 19th Century novel. Early on the building blocks of the story clunk a little too obviously into place as a sequence of chapters all end on the same note. Finally, the characters tend a little towards the black and white, with motivations, particularly in the case of Helena, mother of Amelia, not ringing true.
In terms of other novels, the most obvious comparison, possibly encouraged by the choice of cover, is with Sarah Perry's Essex Serpent. It is a comparison which favours that book rather than this. While the two are set in a similar time, and both deal with the conflict between superstition and enlightenment, the latter feels like a very modern novel with nuanced characters, while this feels more like a pastiche.
Other comparators might be Philip Pulman's Belle Sauvage for the setting on the banks of the Thames, Graham Swift's Waterland for the cyclical feel of the seasons, or even Dorothy L Sayer's Nine Tailors for the diluvian finale.
While I have some criticisms of the book, overall it is an enjoyable, enriching read. It is part ghost story, part detective yarn, part thriller, and in the end a rather sweet love story. Above all, it is a nice book, with its heart very firmly in the right place. Ultimately, what Setterfield has delivered is a cracking melodrama which perhaps bears more comparison with Wilkie Collins than with Dickens.
The story revolves around a girl who is brought to the Swan pub. She is proclaimed dead, but they she breathes again. The locals at the Swan are known for their storytelling and the girl who died and came back to life proves to be a story that grips everyone. Who is the girl? Where did she come from? The story unfolds and there are two possibilities as to the identity of the little girl. As the story unfolds we get to understand the motivations and lives of all the characters. The inclusion of folklore and myth surrounding the river is interweaved throughout the story and I found it completely absorbing. In fact, I didn't want the story to end. I loved every page, every description, and the ending was perfect too.
Sadly, this is untrue. I persevered with 65% of it before giving up. By that stage I was still waiting for the main characters to be revealed/ developed, but many of them had melded in my mind and it was difficult to say which stood out. Before I could get to grips with the existing ones, others were being introduced amid long periods of inaction. This is why I found it boring. It didn't go anywhere, and I got the impression that the writer was struggling with the plot herself. Writers like this can be found in any creative writing group, usually determined to explore the fairytale genre, but the folklore theme here is repetitive and heavy handed. I was not sure of the time frame and I feel, neither was the author, as events laboriously emerged.
The other jarring factor was the attempt at introducing far too many characters, and then having long periods where they seem to have been abandoned. The only author who could really handle a large cast was Dickens and this is poor attempt at doing something similar. It is just not robust enough to succeed.