A Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

“There was once an inn that sat peacefully on the bank of the Thames at Radcot, a long day’s walk from the source. There were a great many inns along the upper reaches of the Thames at the time of this story and you could get drunk in all of them, but beyond the usual ale and cider, each one had some particular pleasure to offer…”

In her book, ‘Once Upon a River’, Setterfield takes the reader on a magical journey where a seemingly drowned child come “back to life”. Set in the 19th century, we are taken back to a time where the scientific knowledge we now have was yet to be discovered. And a lifeless body coming back to life was somewhat of a miracle.

I had the pleasure of meeting Diane Setterfield last November at the Historical Writers Association awards ceremony, where she was crowned the winner of the HWA Gold Crown 2019.

She described the inspiration for this book as a result of “something that happened so long ago”, a story read in her grandmother’s newspaper when she was a child. The article told the story of a “child who fell into the freezing cold river, was underwater for nearly an hour and when the lifeless body was pulled out, the child opened his eyes and breathed again”.

“I thought that was amazing. Years later I read another account with more science about what really happens. And there is a medical phenomenon whereby in extreme temperatures underwater, the human body will click into a special survival mode.

The circulation and the breathing will stop and the person will appear dead but they’re not. At the time, people really would’ve thought a dead person had come back to life. That was what triggered the thinking process”.

But don’t let that sway your stance on this blog post. Admittedly, I’ve only recently got around to reading the winning book “Once Upon a River” and what a read it was. Setterfield certainly has a rare way with words that capture your attention from start to finish.

Unsurprisingly, I devoured this within days. I just could not put it down. I haven’t read much Historical Fiction in the past other than the likes of ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris and Sue Monk Kidd’s ‘The Invention of Wings’. And there is certainly a lot of misconception surrounding the genre, to an extent where some avoid it.

It’s sometimes perceived to be a niche genre limited to Historians or those classmates that would keenly sit at the front of every History lesson hungry for more. Whilst this may ring somewhat true, historical fiction is an access into fiction for everyone, with its ability to completely transform you to another world. And, let me tell you, ‘Once Upon a River’ does just that.

I only wish I’d bought this as a paperback and not an e-book as the cover is beautiful, completely setting the scene with it’s majestic blue river surrounded by its typical green plants.

This book is certainly one that will stick with me and I will come back to time and time again. I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in the wonders of this book and was almost sad to have finished it.

‘Once Upon a River’ is available to buy here as an e-book, hardcover and paperback. I look forward to my next read of Diane Setterfield’s.

Ciao for now x

Posted by

Wellbeing writer, host for The Inspired Narrative podcast and mental health support worker.

One thought on “A Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

  1. Hi Thanks Gwen. I shall have to buy a paperback, then when I have read it, you can have it for your collection of the ‘Good Stuff.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s