Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield ★★★★☆

Introduction 10/22/19

I decided to read this book for the upcoming buzzwordathon that is looking for books with numbers in the title. Obviously, once is a bit of a numerical stretch, but let me remind you that this is a random challenge on the internet. It really isn’t that big of a deal. However, I realized I bought both the physical and audio version of Setterfield’s earlier work, The Thirteenth Tale, a while back and never read it. Both of these stories are about the art of story telling which just sounds like a really cool concept.

My turn off was that its historical fiction; I’ve come to realize I am a little particular with historical fiction, especially Victorian. Still, the point of these challenges is to read books you want to read just never get to, and what better reason than the it being the number 13! I figured I could do both. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it turns out there are a lot of books with numbers in the title that I am interested in reading (read about them in my buzzwordathon post!). Once Upon a River is the longest among them (nearly 500 pages). Plus, reading two books by her is risky since I’ve never read her before, so I dropped this from the list.

As these challenges have a habit of doing, it still got me hyped to read it, and I bought it on hardback off bookoutlet.ca. So here I am, ready to read Once Upon a River.

Update 10/23/19

I have only read ~20% of this book, and I have a lot of thoughts. I really love the tone of the book. It has a hint of fairytale and bit of goth. Although, it is in the late Victorian which I struggle with. The first part was really interesting, the setting up of the premise. A young girl is found dead. She then wakes up. A story begins. I really like the perspective through which she’s telling the story. It is a very self aware book meant to explore the art of story telling. It’s about how stories are told and how they change with time.

I am struggling to keep up though. We are meeting a lot of characters; the individual scenes are interesting. Sadly, I am struggling to retain details. It worries me that I won’t be able to make the necessary connections as I progress. I have rewound two times now. Once in the beginning, which really helped, and again after about 20% in. I stopped and watched a YouTube review of the book (is it cheating to plug another review in my own review?). It wasn’t a full break down; it gave a brief summary and explored how the story was set up. I’m hoping my reread coupled with that will aid me in understanding. I am not usually so concerned with understanding; if a book can’t keep my interest’s in part on the author. Nevertheless, I really want to like this story. I want to be excited and prepared for the 13th tale, and I want to enjoy the underlying commentary these books were meant to convey.

Update 10/24/19

I’m nearly half way, and I’m really enjoying it! I stopped and watched another recap because I was still confused. The reviewer breaks down the story a bit more, without spoiling it, and I thought it really helped. We are dealing with a lot of characters. I still don’t have all their names down, but I recognize them based on their situation. If this was lit class, I might be cheating, but its not! It’s a book I am reading and want to enjoy. I want to take a moment to break down the basic summary in slightly more detail than whats listed in the book blurb the publisher provides. This isn’t going to ruin the mystery, but I think it will help me and possibly other confused readers who want an aid when starting it. Feel free to skip the next paragraph if you’d rather go unaware of these details. I just think this is a beautifully written story with a lot to say, so I am willing to put forward a little extra effort.

A young girl is found dead except she’s not. The question arises of who she is. More specifically, whose is she. We find ourselves with a variety of individuals each having lost a young girl at some point in their life. The story unfolds as we try and uncover who this girl is.

Finished ~10/28/19

I really enjoyed this story. I won’t pretend it wasn’t hard to follow at times, but I think it was worth it. The story is elegantly told in a fairy tale like structure that is unique and enjoyable. Even as I reread multiple sections of this, I enjoyed doing it. I think the problems I have with the novel stem from my own personal preferences. For one, the Victorian style isn’t what I normally read. The hardest thing was getting into the story, but even as I read, I found myself being distracted by the style. If you enjoy Victorian, I highly recommend this book because it is a beautiful story.

This is about a town haunted by secrets of tragedies past. We can appreciate and feel for the characters as they struggle to get by and cope with everything that has and continues to happen. Beyond plot and action, what I love most in a story are characters I can sink my teeth into and really connect with. That is what we get from this great novel.

Despite my problems, I could easily see myself rereading this story. It is intricately woven in a ways that only reveal themselves with closer look. What is felt here is a love of story telling and the magic of mystery and the world around us. The magic here is thin and almost non existent. Most of the time any hint of magic is hidden by the guise of a more natural explanation. Personally, I enjoy this type of magic, but I love a deeper magical world as well.

All in all, I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys stories that are about the art of story telling. I recommend it if you enjoy the more Victorian style, and I recommend it if you enjoy fairy tale style stories. That said, I don’t think this novel is for everyone. The story itself isn’t anything special in my opinion. I just found it resonated more with me emotionally than the average story. 4.25/5 stars.

7 thoughts on “Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield ★★★★☆

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