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?
The beautiful cover and tempting blurb drew me into this intriguing book, but at first the slow pace made it easy to put the book down. The idea of a man stumbling into a riverside pub on a dark winter night, carrying a child drowned in the river, promises a tale stranger than any which the publican might be about to tell and gradually I was drawn into the mystery. Who was the girl? Why do so many people wish to claim her?
The injured man, Henry Daunt, was based on real-life Victorian photographer, Henry Taunt, and his steady good sense guides us through the tale. We meet other strong character as the plot unfurls; Rita, the nurse everyone trusts, Robert Armstrong, a gentle giant who cares for his family and his animals and Lily White, a hard-working housekeeper who has been sorely abused.
Even the River Thames, in this part of Oxfordshire, is a character in the story and the plot focuses on the Swan Inn as Mr and Mrs Vaughan arrive, believing that the little girl is their Amelia who was kidnapped two years earlier. Robert Armstrong thinks she may be the grand-daughter he has never met and Lily thinks it might be her long lost sister. The threads of the complex plot slowly unwind in a story of love and parenthood tainted by blackmail and murder. A mystery begins to make sense but finally there is the magic of the river flowing to the conclusion.
Once upon a River on Amazon UK
A Pinterest page of photographs by Henry Taunt
Born in rural Berkshire, Diane Setterfield spent most of her childhood in the village of Theale. After schooldays at Theale Green, Diane studied French Literature at the University of Bristol. Her PhD was on autobiographical structures in André Gide’s early fiction. She taught English at the Institut Universitaire de Technologie and the Ecole nationale supérieure de Chimie, both in Mulhouse, France, and later lectured in French in the UK. She left academia in the late 1990s to pursue writing.
Diane now lives in Oxford by the Thames. When not writing she reads widely, and when not actually reading she is usually talking or thinking about reading. She is, she says, ‘a reader first, a writer second.’