Top positive review
This will go on my best-of-the-year list
Reviewed in the United States on September 7, 2018
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.
This fantastic story begins at the Swan, an inn located on the bank of the Thames. (Or perhaps it isn’t the Thames?) We do know it is the night of the winter solstice but we don’t know what year. You see, everything is deliberately a little vague as in any good fairy tale or myth; its meaning and relevance being universal and timeless.
When we start the book we soon learn the good folks at the Swan all love to tells stories, with each person trying to outdo the other. Their night is interrupted when an obviously large but injured man falls into the Swan carrying a lifeless little girl.
The very skilled and beloved nurse Rita is called in to help. She is able to stitch up and save the man but the little girl seems dead. But then, surprising everyone, it turns out she isn’t.
I don’t want to give much more away; it’s so much better and more fun finding out what happens next as the author intended - but I will say that there are several people in the village and just beyond who have an interest in this little girl and believe she belongs to them. Their motivations often as confusing to us the readers as it is to them. Most of these people are of good heart and most all seem to love her.
It is only at the end that most of our questions are answered.
I took over a week to read this book - I normally would read it in a day but I was so in love with it that I would read a few chapters and stop; it’s that good and I didn’t want it to be over. Whenever I picked it up and started reading I was completely transported to this mythic, wonderful place populated with the most wonderful characters. I didn’t want to leave, at the same time I desperately wanted to know what happened next,
It’s not important for me to have to like a character to like a book, but in this case you find yourself rooting for and caring about so many of them. Each character is so three-dimensional and the dialogue so spot and and often funny. Quirky in the best way.
The story itself is marvelous, but it’s the wonderful prose that makes this book one of my favorites. I have dog-earred so many pages (if I threw it across the room I think it might fly) because I thought certain sentences or descriptions were so clever and evocative. I know a lot of people write well, but this was exceptional and I am definitely going to go out and read her earlier books.
Just an example of the writing - a description of the landlady of the Swan, followed by a passage that may give you a feel for the otherworldly essence of the book:
“Margot was a handsome woman in her late fifties. She could lift barrels without help and had legs so sturdy, she never felt the need to sit down.”
“There are stories that may be told aloud, and stories that must be told in whispers and there are stories that are never told at all. The story of the marriage of Mrs. and Mrs. Armstrong was one of these latter ones, known only to the two parties to whom it belonged and the river. But as secret visitors to this world, as border crossers between one world and another, there is nothing to prevent us sitting by the river and opening our ears; then we will know it too.”
I cannot say enough good things about this book. It is so filled with heart and wonderful characters - even the river becomes one. Every once in a while, when I finish a book and turn the final page, I will clutch the book and experience a “reader’s high” for lack of a better phrase. It’s the most wonderful feeling and I got it with this book.