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  • ★★★★☆

Once Upon A River, by Diane Setterfield

Once Upon A River is a self-consciously clever book, in a way I found very satisfying. It’s structured so the individual stories all grow and flow into each other like tributaries into the river it’s set upon, emotional undercurrents shifting and changing.

Stories are another theme, and the narrator’s perspective encourages us to view all the moments presented to us with a little scepticism; like we were sat in the pub the book opens in, listening to a story by the fire.

The tale they share is of a mysterious girl, who, after appearing drowned, comes to life, her identity a mystery.

Just like being swept along by the river, or caught up in a story, I found myself carried along from start to finish: it is totally immersive. There were characters I would happily spend days in the company of; the farmer Robert Armstrong and the nurse Rita are both original and compelling.

At the end, however, it felt like the spell broke: the story wrapped up and the river lost itself to the sea. I was released from the story without looking at anything differently, or inspired or motivated in any particular way. So while it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, it’s not quite 5* from me.

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