Thursday, December 26, 2019

Once Upon a River

Title:  Once Upon A River
Publication Information:  Atria/Emily Bestler Books. 2018. 480 pages.
ISBN:  0743298071 / 978-0743298070

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "There was once an inn that sat peacefully on the bank of the Thames at Radcot, a day's walk from the source."

Favorite Quote:  "A river no more begins at its source than a story begins with the first page."

The river in question is the River Thames. It is not as it flows through London but by an ancient inn a ways away. This is a place where stories are told, and sometimes stories happen. This particular story involves an injured man and, more importantly, a small child. This child - a girl - appears lifeless. Until she awakens.

So begins this story of what is deemed a miracle and, more importantly, a mystery. Who is this girl? How did she come to this place? Three possible answers arise. A young mother's daughter has been missing for two years. A farmer stands ready to welcome a granddaughter he never knew he had. A lonely woman sees her sister. Who is right? Where does the girl belong?

The cover, the setup, and the description are beautifully atmospheric. The writing creates a vivid visual of this place - the inn and the river - and a sense of isolation. The book creates a sense of something coming - an impending revelation or climax. However, for me that never happens. Like Bellman and Black, this book creates a wonderful atmosphere and builds an anticipation. However, that moment never comes.

To some extent, the book describes itself. "Something happens and then something else happens and then all sorts of other things happen, expected and unexpected, unusual and ordinary." Some things happen, but the pacing of the book is very very slow, particularly since it does not build to a more dramatic conclusion. The book seems to slowly wander and meander through the story as the river does through the countryside.

The other issue is that the "something" that happens happens to a lot of people. The book has a lot of characters, each with its own complete story line it seems. The inn keeper and her husband. The wealthy couple navigating through marriage and the loss of a child. The farmer who is in search of his lost son. The lonely woman who longs for company. The young boy who dreams of running away. The young girl herself. All the stories could possibly be untangled and stand on their own.

I walk away feeling like I missed something. Was this a mystery? Was it a book about the supernatural? Was it a metaphor? I still have a vivid image in my mind of the river and the cold, but no real idea how to interpret the rest.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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