"It was solstice night, the longest night of the year... And as the borders between night and day stretch to their thinnest, so too do the borders between worlds... Unexpected things can happen. Did the solstice have anything to do with the strange events at the swan? You will have to judge for yourself."
As a newcomer to Diane Setterfield's work and hearing what a legend she is in the book community, I was excited and a little bit anxious to see how I would receive her brand of storytelling. I was blessed beyond all measure to read this alongside dear friend Leigh Kramer, and knew that no matter what the outcome we would have delightful discussions along the way. From the very first page I knew this story would be something special; the lush prose and dreamlike atmosphere were enticing, and Setterfield's gift in speaking directly to the reader drew me in and gripped me like a vice until I turned the final page.
"When the cold river doesn't feel cold, that's when you know you're in trouble."
I've seen some varied opinions of this book, and what I've noticed so far is how, whether feelings of delight or boredom, readers have strong opinions of this story. As someone who was able to go into this knowing that it would be a slow burn from start to finish, I think it gave me the perspective I needed to pick it up at just the right time so that I could let the story guide me gently along, rather than feeling like I had to cram it in and blow through it in a hurried frenzy. For those looking for a fast paced, plot driven mystery, you won't find it here, but for those searching out a unique story tinged with just the right amount of magic to keep you wondering if this story is indeed supernatural, let me introduce you to Once Upon A River.
"All she was left with when she rose stiffly and took her coat off to go to bed was a deep and impenetrable mystery.
OUAR is the type of story that I could spend pages writing about the atmosphere and "feels", but I also want to take a moment to discuss the characters. There is quite a large cast in this book, and it does take a good chunk before everyone becomes familiar and things begin to fall into place and connect. I found myself texting Leigh frequently asking "wait, now who is this again? And who do they belong to in the story?" because she is gifted in keeping up with all of the confusing things in life. I highly recommend finding a Leigh, but you can't have mine. It was interesting to see which characters we clicked with instantly, which had to grow on us, which ones we hated throughout, and how some of our views changed as the story progressed.
"And now, dear reader, the story is over. It is time for you to cross the bridge once more and return to the world you came from. This river, which is and is not the Thames, must continue flowing without you. You have haunted here long enough, and besides, you surely have rivers of your own to attend to?"
This book was so wonderful, and I think the author did a fantastic job of portraying a vivid, diverse cast of a small town community in the late 1800's, and I believe my only minor issue was with the way the story ended for one character, Rita. While I can't go into detail here due to spoilers, I was a little disappointed that her personality and morals took a 180 in the very final passages, as she was my absolute favorite character in the book for those reasons. Overall though, there's not much to complain about here. OUAR was the kind of book that makes you believe in rich, traditional storytelling once again, and includes the type of writing that feels somehow elevated from most current publications. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a novel that will sweep you away into a whirl of magic you had forgotten existed since you were a child.