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Once Upon a River

Narrated by: Juliet Stevenson
Length: 16 hrs and 26 mins
5 out of 5 stars (18 ratings)

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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

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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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  • Diana Haret
  • 02-04-19

Wonderful listen!

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

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • polo
  • 02-02-19

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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-21-19

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.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • jlbenefield
  • 02-04-19

Great story

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

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Susan B.
  • 01-29-19

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.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • R. J. Gladden
  • 03-01-19

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • JENNIFER
  • 01-24-19

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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  • SMC
  • 04-18-19

Far too long for the story content

Really dissapointed with this book, as, from the 5* reviews I had read, I was expecting to be enthralled and captivated from the outset to the end.
The narrator is all that kept me listening to be honest, the first few chapters were promising but after that I found that the story did not really move on, and none of the characters held my imagination.. in fact, at the end of the book if asked to describe one character I liked, would have found it hard to connect to any of them

The odd thing is that the final summing up chapters gave a bit more interest which is why my headline says the book went on for far too long going nowhere, for the complete story contents.

Sorry my first book of this author does not encourage further reading.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Grammy
  • 01-29-19

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!






6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Luce Briggi
  • 02-01-19

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.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Nola J Pearce
  • 02-06-19

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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  • Susanne
  • 08-03-19

Great characters. Great story.

By the end I was really invested in this story and looked forward to each installment.. each drive or quiet or housework time I could turn it on so I gave it 5.. the little bits I struggled with along the way was when the characters voices were too similar to distinguish in a chapter where many charcters involved.. and the bit of the story with dragons didn't seem to fit with the rest? I feel like I missed a bit.. or missed a message..

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  • Georgi
  • 07-30-19

Totally Absorbing!

After the first few chapters I was beginning to dispair that the whole thing would be dreadfully long- winded.
I decided to give it 20 chapters, but I didn't need that long. After 10 Id been fully pulled in! Absolutely fantastic, absorbing performance!

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  • Nicole Holton
  • 07-21-19

Exciting and sweet.

What a great tale. It built upon itself over and over until it gently resolved.

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  • ej
  • 06-26-19

A wonderful story a joy to listen to with ease

Absolutely superb narration and absorbing storyline.l loved it. I was sorry it ended. Read it and see fit yourself.

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  • Jutta Zotz
  • 06-21-19

Wonderful stuff!

A beautiful and evocative story, well written and read. I loved every minute of it.

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  • Amanda Vermeulen
  • 06-14-19

Lovely, lyrical tale and extraordinary narration

After a few attempts, I eventually gave this book the attention it deserves. Setterfield's story and the narration by Juliet Stevenson were wonderful. It's a simple story of love, entwined with the mythology of the Thames River. Beautifully written, and Stevenson confirms once again why she is one of the most talented actors of her generation. I look forward to more Diane Setterfield books, and other narrations by Stevenson.

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  • Gabrielle Karsai
  • 06-10-19

Perfect

This is a perfect marriage of story and narrator. Juliet Stevenson uses different tones, inflections and accents to make each character sing. Sublime! The story is full of human tragedy, tinged with magic and mystery. Highly recommended.

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  • graham
  • 05-11-19

Fabulous Tale

Loved this slow moving story. Loved the tales within the tale. loved the themes of live and loss, nature versus nurture, parent child bonds, early photography and, of course, the mighty Thames.

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  • Carol
  • 04-24-19

Oh I love this story!

So beautifully written and read......”the coiling architecture of her ear”......beautiful 💖. I am halfway through and can’t wait to read it every day.