Once upon a river by Diane Setterfield

The year is 1887, and upstream from London and Oxford, along the entire banks of the Thames, there are small village inns. Each of them is famous for something; food, drink, owners, music, happy or unhappy events in which they played their part. But the Swan Inn in Radcot is known for bringing its regular guests back to life…

“There are stories that may be told aloud, and stories that must be told in whispers, and there are stories that are never told at all.”

Diane Setterfield, Once Upon a River

… At least for as long as it takes for one of the guests to tell a story in their own way about someone who is no longer among them, about something amazing and mysterious. If you crave fun, funny, juicy scandalous, sad or creepy stories, “Swan” is the right place for you. Regular visitors to this little inn are, you see, excellent storytellers.

And yet, even those who have heard, seen and invented a lot and told even more, could never have guessed that in a few moments someone in the middle of the night – that special winter night – would knock on the door and turn them into witnesses of the most incredible story which will revive some almost forgotten legends of the area.

It is time of magic. And as the borders between night and day strech to their thinnest, so do too borders between worlds.

Diane Setterfield, Once Upon a River

The man who entered the inn was carrying a lifeless body in his arms. As soon as he crossed the threshold of the inn, he lost consciousness, so, carrying a dead girl in his arms, he collapsed on the floor of the inn.

Rita Sunday was not afraid of corpses. She was used to them from childhood, had even been born from one

Diane Setterfield, Once Upon a River

They say each body tells a story of its own end. The body of an adult man was beaten, but still alive. The four-year-old child, unfortunately, showed no signs of life. However, there were no signs or traces on it that would indicate the way in which this young life found its end…

And then the girl inhaled and opened her eyes. In the town of Radcot on the Thames that evening, a story began that the area will not forget for a long time…

Everything she knew told her that what she experience could not happen. Dead children do not come back to life. There were two possibilities: either the child was not alive – she listened: there it was, the delicate breath – or she had not been dead.

Diane Setterfield, Once Upon a River

Everyone who has ever seen this mute child has undoubtedly felt one and the same urge – to appropriate her, to embrace her, to declare her his own, to give her refuge. But the girl has her own family… Specifically, at least three families claiming the child is theirs.

Her name is Amelia and she was abducted from her bedroom two years ago.

Her name is Alice, her mother has recently died, and her father is problematic young man raised in a fair and hardworking local families.

Her name is Ann; a few years ago she was drowned by her own sister, Lily White, who lives not far from the inn.

Who really is that little girl the swollen river brought? Who is this mute, calm child, staring eternally at the river, as if longing for something to happen?

‘There is another side to the river,’ Eliza used to tell her. ‘Once upon a time there was a naughty little girl who played too close to the bank. One day, while she wasn’t looking, a goblin rose out of the water. He grasped the little girl by the hair and took her back, kicking and splashing, to his own goblin realm under the river. And if you don’t believe me …’ Had she believed her? It was hard to know, now. ‘If you don’t believe me, you have only to listen. Go on, listen now. Do you hear the water splashing?’

Diane Setterfield, Once Upon a River

“Once Upon a River” is the third book by Diane Setterfield, which became famous for its debut, the book “The Thirteenth Story”

When someone so masterfully takes the already romantic and mysterious rural England on the threshold of groundbreaking scientific discoveries and theories and mixes it with local superstitions and legends, and adds a whole range of original characters, you get a real literary treat that offers the reader the opportunity to meditate on numerous essential topics concerning man and his nature.

A more careful reader will notice that these miraculous events take place at a time when the world is experiencing a thorough paradigm shift about man as the pinnacle of the creative power of the heavenly Creator – one of the most famous theories of evolution will offer a completely different view of human (animal?) Nature.

And here are many topics that this story touches on – is the urge for motherhood innate and typical for every woman? How does this maternal instinct protect the child? Is maternal instinct infallible? Can this instinct also have its dark, dangerous sides?

What is the nature of evil? Is man born evil and where are the limits of man’s depravity? Is there in man’s biology the seed of evil, an instinct from which man cannot escape? Or is man’s core good, harmless and innocent, and evil becomes due to a web of external circumstances? What is the role of poverty in all this?

Can everything be explained by science or does the world still hide many secrets that science will never be able to touch? Is there still a little bit of magic in this world, in nature and in its oldest natural forces and phenomena?

I think it exists, and I think the whole book “Once Upon a River” is a metaphor for just such a spell. Book lovers will immediately, I am sure, recognize this, and that is why they will read and love this book precisely because the author paid tribute to the last magic left to man – storytelling.

If you want to be late for work because you’ve been reading page after page all night with wide eyes, swallowing dumpling after dumpling, rubbing your itchy forearms, and soothing a pounding heart with chamomile tea, then get to this book as soon as possible.

If for no other reason, then because of the author’s most ingenious and original farewell from a reader I have ever read anywhere.

It has already been announced that a TV series will be filmed based on this book, and I can already see that I will cry on it as well.

If this review of mine seems a bit abbreviated to you, the radars are probably working well for you – I’m very restrained and restrained in order to ruin your reading and experience of this book as little as possible. This is one of those titles that makes me sorry I can’t click on a score higher than five on Goodreads. This book has the most heartfelt recommendation from me.

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