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A Watery Tale

Once Upon a River Book Cover Once Upon a River
Diane Setterfield
Fairy Tales, Myths, Historical Thrillers, Literary fiction
Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Doubleday
(29 Aug. 2019)

It was the longest night of the year when the strangest of things happened . . .

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On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames, the regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open and in steps an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.

Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

And who does the little girl belong to?

An exquisitely crafted multi-layered mystery brimming with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

Once upon a time – we still see echoes of it today – people gave offerings to the water goddesses. And in this story we delve back into the myths surrounding these water goddesses and fairies and the birth caul, as well as the River Thames.

In the time when traffic on the river was heavy and barges came and went loaded up with goods that were easier to transport on water than road, we find ourselves stopping at ancient inns along the towpaths. And in the dark evenings, sitting around the fireplace, stories were told to keep the travellers entertained.

The Swan Inn was such an Inn situated in the watercress fields – fields nourished by the dead bodies of those that fell in a long ago battle. The Thames has been fought over for many centuries – from Alfred onwards. Later than the time of this story, a railway was built – called the WaterCress Line (!), just to bring this prized salad crop to London. Watercress is an aquatic plant species with the botanical name Nasturtium officinale.
In former times there was little choice of green vegetables in Winter and Watercress filled that gap with its ability to crop at least 4 times a Season. https://astonrowant.wordpress.com/ewelme-watercress-beds/

I really liked the way the story was told. The sentences and phrasing reminded me of nineteenths century novels. It is slow and detailed and the characters come to life and talk to you. There is a narrator too who tells a different story – the story of rivers, the Thames and links into the various lore of the different traditions.

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