editor's choice



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 … but beyond the usual ale and cider, each one had some particular pleasure to offer … The Swan at Radcot had its own specialism. It was where you went for storytelling.”


I seem to be reading a lot of books set in, and showcasing, England beautifully: Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River joins this canon. It opens on a winter’s night in an inn on the Thames, where a group of regulars have congregated to exchange tales. Then a stranger enters, carrying the body of a small child, little more than four years old. As the inn’s inhabitants try to piece together what’s happened, if the child’s death is an accident or the result of more nefarious practices, the seemingly unthinkable happens and she comes back to life. A miracle or something else altogether?

Setterfield takes us on a voyage of discovery as she unveils her rich, layered and mesmerising story and I can honestly say I haven’t read anything like it in quite some time, something that’s so exciting, energising and just, well, wonderful – and that’s in a year of particularly good new fiction. I had the same feeling starting this book as I did reading Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits and Keri Hulme’s The Bone People for the very first time, that I was in the safe and loving hands of a true and masterly storyteller.

It’s a gem.




Once Upon a River | Diane Setterfield | Doubleday | Hardback | £12.99 | 24 January 2019 |

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Acknowledgements: Text from Once Upon a River © Diane Setterfield 2019. This review is published as part of the virtual book tour organised by Anne Cater, of Random Things Tours, to whom we extend our thanks. Many thanks also to the publisher for supplying a review copy of the book. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved. Image © The Literary Shed 2018.

Also of interest: ‘A tale of “Jews and shoes” in modern China, Spencer Wise’s debut novel’; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘The Woolgrower’s companion‘; ‘The stark beauty of William Shaw’s Salt Lane‘; ‘Johana Gustawsson’s Keeper –indie publisher, Orenda, does it again‘; ‘We should all be feminists’; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry’.


This review is © 2018 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.