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Once Upon a River

Narrated by: Juliet Stevenson
Length: 16 hrs and 26 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (18 ratings)
Non-member price: $33.43
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Publisher's Summary

Random House presents the audiobook edition of Once Upon a River, written by Diane Setterfield and read by Juliet Stevenson. 

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 on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child. 

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

Is it a miracle?  

Is it magic?  

Or can it be explained by science?   

An exquisitely crafted multilayered 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 best seller The Thirteenth Tale.

©2018 Diane Setterfield (P)2018 Random House Audiobooks

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant. Wonderfully written and narrated.

I loved this book. Truly beautiful writing (overlooking the incessant need to end sentences...and indeed the story itself! with a preposition), with engaging original characters. I loved the narration, in beautifully spoken English with wonderful character voices, almost always proceeding at a riverly pace.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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I wanted to enjoy, but couldn't!

I tried really hard to enjoy this book, but it just never took off. I enjoyed the setting, but the characters and storyline I found just so boring! I could never quite tell if the book was written for adults or children either. The constant introduction of new characters made it hard work trying to remember who each person was and what importance they had to the story. The storyline itself seemed very basic, and did not grab me, leaving me caring what happened. I see most reviews have been positive, but for me it was frustratingly slow and boring.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A rambling good story

I had a lot of trouble staying focused on this story as it rambled as much as the river, which I suppose was intentional, but my mind kept wandering off, and I was constantly replaying sequences, so I took ages to finish it. Performance and setting were excellent.

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Once upon a great story read beautifully!

I loved this audio book. I genuinely feel sad that it had to end. I would highly recommend it to those who cherish the old fashioned blissful escapist art of story telling. Just wonderful.

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Great storyteller

I enjoyed this book immensely. The plot was fantastic and Juliet Stevenson is a spellbinding narrator.

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  • Bea
  • 09-02-2019

A most stunning novel!

If you are planning to read just one book this year, let it be Once Upon the River!! Stories, magic and beautiful language you will find in it .... Ms Stevenson's narration is an absolute delight!

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  • jlbenefield
  • 04-02-2019

Great story

Loved it- a gentle tale which kept me listening wonderfully narrated will now look for more by the same author

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Diana Haret
  • 04-02-2019

Wonderful listen!

I haven't even reached the half of it, but I love it tremendously. Lovely story and fantastic performance by Juliet Stevenson!

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 21-01-2019

Wonderful!

Tales within a tale! The characters brought to life by Juliet’s superb narration. This book will stay in my thoughts for quite sometime. Thank you Diane and Juliet for the pleasure I had in listening to this book.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • polo
  • 02-02-2019

Slow to get going

I nearly gave up as it took me a while to get into. The story was good and the narration excellent.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Susan B.
  • 29-01-2019

Serendipity

I came across this by accident because I was searching for books read by Juliet Stevenson who is one of my favourite readers. It was 16 hours of delight. I loved every minute of it. Juliet Stevenson is a wonderful performer and the story had me completely absorbed. There were one or two moments in the final hour where the book could have been drawn to a close and left one wondering, which might have been more literary, but I was so involved that I wanted every loose end tied up and the author managed to do this and still leave something to wonder about.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • JENNIFER
  • 24-01-2019

The River

Amazing book - like a fairy story very well told. Juliet Stevenson was the best narrator. Thankyou

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Luce Briggi
  • 01-02-2019

A beautifully told tale

★★★★✰ 4 stars

“ Dreams and stories merge with lived experience, the dead and the living brush against each other in their comings and goings, the past and the present touch and overlap. 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.
Now you know everything you need to know, the story can begin.”


Having loved The Thirteenth Tale I had quite high expectations for Once Upon a River. While this novel is a bit of a departure from The Thirteenth Tale, Setterfield explores similar themes.
The act/art of storytelling plays a huge role in Once Upon a River, and I would go as far as to say that storytelling is the real protagonist of this novel. From its title and its very first pages, the novel addresses the importance of storytelling. The narration feels as belonging to a teller of tales. The way in which certain things are revealed to the reader and the careful rhythm created by stressing certain words or phrases really echoes fairy tales and folktales alike.
This novel is a homage to these types of tales, conjuring up lore whilst remaining faithful to its own story. Once Upon a River is a modern addition to a long beloved tradition and it provides readers with a more expressive and eloquent tale.

This novel is what I would describe as a slow burn. To start with, I didn't know that it was going to be an actual 'tale', so I wasn't sure of the direction of the narrative. I wondered at the large cast of characters, the to-and-fro between them, and the seemingly trivial details that take up so much of the narrative...and then, before I begun to realise it, I found myself completely absorbed by the world and the characters depicted by Setterfield. The little girl herself doesn't have a voice as such, which was a bit of a pity, and the novel seems to focus on the parents rather than the children. Nevertheless, there are many lovely and moving scenes between various family members, especially between husbands and wives.

My only issue in regards of these characters is that although the main characters felt nuanced, the 'bad guys' of the story are merely 'villains' and are to blame for all the horrible and or sad things that happen within the narrative. The novel seemed rather simplistic in its portrayal of good vs. bad. We get very few glimpses of the thoughts and motivations of the 'bad guys' and by the end it seemed a bit too easy to make them in such villainous figures. I know that fairy tales have such 'bad' figures but still, given that Setterfield has created a more complex sort of tale, I was hoping that all of the characters would be given the same sort of attention.

There are a lot of small mysteries interspersed throughout the narrative. Some might be easy to guess but it is the way in which the narrative reveals these 'mysteries' that makes them worth having. I was fascinated by the gossip and rumours surrounding the little girl, and it was interesting to see what various characters believed to be the truth:
Overall, I enjoyed it. It might be slow going at first but as the characters and their lives take shape, and lulled by the wistful and spellbinding narrative, I soon realised that Once Upon a River is not only a tale worth reading but a tale worth revisiting.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • R. J. Gladden
  • 01-03-2019

Not my cup of tea apart from Juliet Stevenson

I didn’t really enjoy this book as I had great difficulty getting into the characters apart from the main protagonists. But, Juliet Stevenson’s narration kept me going right until the end and it was truly spellbinding, it was almost as though there was a full cast of actors performing. Now, only 24 hours after finishing listening, I am struggling to remember what happened at the end. However, perhaps that’s just me as lots of other reviewers absolutely loved it.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Grammy
  • 29-01-2019

Once upon a River

I’m so appreciative of Diane Setterfield writing and absolutely enjoyed this marvellous book tremendously!

Once again Juliet Stevenson narrated seamlessly with such skill and talent.

Loved it! Want more!






5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Loz
  • 28-01-2019

Stunning

Wow what a beautiful intricately written story. I loved everything about this and wish it hadn’t ended. All of the strands of the stories come together beautifully.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful