REVIEW: Once Upon a River, Diane Setterfield

Monday, 4 March 2019

A body always tells a story—but this child’s was a blank page. Rita reached for the lantern on its hook. She trained its light on the child’s face. ‘Who are you?’ she murmured, but the face said as little as the rest of her. It was impossible to tell whether, in life, these blunt and unfinished features had borne the imprint of prettiness, timid watchfulness, or sly mischief. If there had once been curiosity or placidity or impatience here, life had not had time to etch it into permanence. Only a very short time ago—two hours or not much more—the body and soul of this little girl had still been securely attached. At this thought, and despite all her training, all her experience, Rita found herself suddenly in the grip of a storm of feeling. All the old rage at God—for not being kind, for not being fair, and finally for just not being—swept her up all over again and she felt tears of anger on her face. She took the child’s hand in hers—the perfect hand with its five perfect fingers and their perfect fingernails—and the words fell out of her that she had not known were there: ‘It should not be so! It should not be so!’ And that is when it happened.

We get it, the novel’s title is Once Upon a River. Jesus Christ.
Whilst the reality of the River Thames is one that characterises every major waterway in the United Kingdom - opaque, freezing and overflowing with rubbish - Diane Setterfield really tries to hammer home the point in this novel that it is, in fact, a magical entity that has a personality all of its own. Ebbing and flowing and all that; influencing the events that take place on its banks.
At least, by how many references/descriptions of it in this book, that is what it certainly feels like she's aiming for - take them all out and this book would be a tenth of its size and filled with utter nothingness.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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