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The Secret River [Paperback]

Kate Grenville
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Feb 2006
London, 1807. William Thornhill, happily wedded to his childhood sweetheart Sal, is a waterman on the River Thames. Life is tough but bearable until William makes a mistake, a bad mistake for which he and his family are made to pay dearly. His sentence: to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. The Thornhills arrive in this harsh and alien land that they cannot understand and which feels like a death sentence. But among the convicts there is a rumour that freedom can be bought, that 'unclaimed' land up the Hawkesbury offers an opportunity to start afresh, far away from the township of Sydney. When William takes a hundred acres for himself he is shocked to find Aboriginal people already living on the river. And other recent arrivals - Thomas Blackwood, Smasher Sullivan and Mrs Herring - are finding their own ways to respond to them. Soon Thornhill, a man neither better nor worse than most, has to make the most difficult decision of his life ...

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Product details

  • Paperback: 334 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; 1 St Edition edition (2 Feb 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841956821
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841956824
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.4 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 523,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"'Kate Grenville has transformed an Australian myth into a dazzling fiction of universal appeal. It is a pleasure to be able to praise a true novelist.' PATRICK WHITE 'Here is someone who can really write.' PETER CAREY 'A powerful storyteller.' NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW"

Book Description

Grenville, as ever, describes an Australia so overwhelmingly beautiful that readers will lust after its sunbaked soul too' Daily Telegraph --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
90 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping novel that draws you in 1 Dec 2007
By Julia Flyte TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I loved this book. I read it very quickly because it was so hard to put down. Kate Grenville writes beautifully and captures the magic of the Australian landscape.

The story is about William Thornhill who is sentenced to life as a convict in Australia in the early 19th century. The first part of the book concerns his life in Georgian England. He is born into abject poverty and although he tries to make an honest go of it, circumstances lead him into crime. He is convicted of theft and his sentence is to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. His wife and child accompany him. This part of the book is a little slow, but the momentum picks up once they get to Australia, about 75 pages in.

In Australia, Thornhill discovers that the new country represents a blank slate where he can re-invent himself and break out of the cycle of poverty and crime that he has come from. He quickly wins his freedom and seizes the opportunity to get his own land and create his own farm, staking a claim to 100 seemingly vacant acres of land. However this brings him directly into contact (and potentially into conflict) with the native Aboriginal people.

The book is beautifully written. It really takes you into the world of early colonial Australia and gives you a sense of how difficult a life the early settlers had. The tension builds and builds as it become obvious that some kind of conflict between Thornhill's family and the Aborigines is inevitable. It made me understand the way that good people can be conflicted about what the right thing to do is. Different settlers in the area make different decisions and as you read the book, it you wonder how you would have acted in the same circumstances. But aside from the moral dilemmas, it's just a good story: a man trying to create a new and better life for himself and his family, overcoming many hurdles and setbacks, and gradually realising that the biggest threat of all is right in front of him.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An uncomfortable read 8 Oct 2007
Format:Paperback
William Thornhill grows up in poverty in London, takes to petty crime and then gets a chance to become a waterman, a good way of earning honest money but then is thrown back into poverty again when his sponsor dies. He then resorts to crime again and is sentenced to death but that sentence is commuted to transporation.

From this start, the reader is on his side as he battles to support himself and his family. He is in the midst of a society which values property way above human life.

It was in the telling of the story of Thornhill and his wife trying to build something up in Australia that I realised with a shock that I was rooting for him even though as the story progresses this is at the expense of the indigenous people. He isn't a bad man but there are some among the settlers who see things as more give and take but he can't quite succeed in doing that as his own desire to have some land and something of his own comes before anything else and indigenous people are of no account to him.

I think this ambivalent feeling comes from the writing which is even-handed, unemotional and non-judgmental which is why it came as such a shock.

Thornhill is a vivid character, other characters, even including his wife, less so, and everything is tending towards the moment when Thornhill has to make a choice.

There are some very beautiful descriptions of the landscape, making it sound in some ways like a latterday Garden of Eden, but dangerous.

It did start to drag for me about a third of the way through. I did find it an interesting read but it did make me feel uncomfortable because I found myself questioning whose "side" I should be on. I think for such a calm style of writing to achieve that effect is worthy of praise but I have only given it three stars as I felt it dragged and the only well-drawn protagonist was Thornhill himself.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating story 27 Feb 2008
By Wynne Kelly TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
I picked this book up at a hotel in Vietnam from one of those "take one, leave one" shelves. Having never heard of the author or the book I didn't hold out much hope of enjoying it but thought it might help to pass a bumpy seven hour bus journey I had coming up the next day.

It didn't take long for me to be pulled into the story of Will Thornhill and his feisty wife Sal. A poverty stricken waterman is condemned to hang in early 19th century London but with the help of his wife has his sentence changed to transportation. Some excellent descriptive writings of London scenes and of life in New South Wales. Through hard work and luck Will takes on 100 acres of land on the edge of a river. But there are others lurking and his land which is now legally his - aboriginals. They seem to come and go, taking crops he has grown and showing no `respect' for the new owners. The author does well to view this clash from a 19th century viewpoint. It is too easy to see it from a liberal 21st century standpoint. Will's family shows no concept of what the land means to "the blacks" - there is plenty more land that they can go to, so why should they hang around here?

However one of their sons, Dick, is instinctively attracted to the aboriginal people and begins to learn about their ways until forbidden by Will. (I feel more could have been made of this but perhaps Grenville didn't want to go off at too many tangents)

The optimism of the Thornhill's is tinged with sadness. If Will's family is to remain on "their" land then a solution to the "molestations and depredations" must be found. We know that a tragedy awaits the native people but when it comes it is shocking and horrific.

On the surface this is a good family saga.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down!
I loved this book and found it hard to put down! I enjoyed Grenville's writing and found it to be very evocative. Read more
Published 4 days ago by Olivia Fair
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing and compelling
Fascinating insight into the lives of transports settlers, how some prospered, but others jettisoned their humanity. A lasting impression left once the novel is finished.
Published 8 days ago by Mary
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, especially if you like historical novels
I really enjoyed this book a good story and interesting to learn more about the history and culture of the time.
Published 8 days ago by Mrs D M Harris
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
Story line was very good, characters great and the writ5ting was easy to follow. Kept my interest all through the book
Published 25 days ago by Janis McMinn
4.0 out of 5 stars Well researched
I enjoyed this book and felt it portrayed the history of ordinary people in both London, the first part and Australia, the latter section very well. Read more
Published 26 days ago by nothingbettertodo
4.0 out of 5 stars GOOD BOOK
Good read got the imagination working felt I was there in the forest with them a fight for a good life the hard way .
Published 1 month ago by David Stanton
4.0 out of 5 stars The secret river
A good read capturing the look of the strange new land and it's people through her words. The story continues to hold you right to the end leaving you wondering how you would have... Read more
Published 1 month ago by paul bulmer
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable
This book, though enjoyable, did not meet up to all the praise in the reviews of Amazon or even on it's cover. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jane Byars
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative
This began well. London in Georgian time described very well. I enjoyed the descriptions of the area of Rotherhithe and Bermondsey. The Australian part was less so for me. Read more
Published 1 month ago by C. Chanona
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
I was looking forward to reading this book but found it rather unfulfilling . Nit what I expected at all.
Published 2 months ago by Mrs. P. Fawcett
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