by Diane Setterfield
One of my all-time favorite books is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. So I was thrilled to receive a free advanced copy of her latest project from the publisher.
It’s a story about stories. It’s about deep-seated desires, long-endured grief, and mysterious events in the night. There are fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and stories. There is a pub-slash-inn at the center of a tiny town on a river. This inn is known for its storytelling, and when the story actually begins in that very inn, well, the storytellers begin to spin different versions, practicing their tale before the story is even finished.
So, Once Upon a River carries the same gothic feel as Setterfield’s previous novel. It’s striking, how much the setting truly participates in this story. Particularly the river. And the rain. And the dark. And one very cool thing is that amidst the dark and mysterious, there is a photographer character, who works so hard to find the light – literally and figuratively.
The story centers on a little girl who is pulled from the river on the longest night of the year, the winter solstice. Several people hope she is who they want her to be. At four years old, she doesn’t speak, and doesn’t seem to care who takes care of her. Yet everyone around her is drawn to her, wishing, yearning for a little girl they knew who was like her, or for a little girl they never had, but wanted. Everybody wants her, but she doesn’t belong with any of them.
The tale weaves together the lives of local residents around the inn. A young married couple, a midwife/nurse, a photographer, a farmer, a wayward son, a basket-case woman, and a mysterious short man who wears a coat much too large for himself.
There is an otherworldly element to this story, and the sense that your story, like this one, weaves and twists and rises and falls at the whim of the river. So while this specific story goes on, it is also a commentary of sorts, on stories in general. I’ll be reading this one again.
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Content – clean