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91 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping novel that draws you in
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...
Published on 1 Dec 2007 by Julia Flyte

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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An uncomfortable read
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...
Published on 8 Oct 2007 by catsatcastle


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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful and engaging book, 18 April 2007
By 
This review is from: The Secret River (Paperback)
This is the first book of Kate Grenville that I have read, and I really like her prose, being direct but not without emotion. The chracters have real depth and descriptively she puts you in the place, whether its London or New South wales.

As the story gathers momentum, it became quite powerful for me. There is a empathy for the main character (William Thornhill) and why he is so single minded especially when you remember where he has come from. His love for Sal his wife is also very tender and real and endures through hard times.

Interesting and ultimately sad the awkward interactions between the settlers and the natives underlines what must have been an unexpected shock for both parties, unfortunately, the cultural incompatability coming to the fore. This is done with an uncompromising hand informed in part I'm sure by some of the shameful records of history, and described in such a way that makes it painfully obvious that settler and native are literally and spiritually worlds apart.

A really good read.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A joy to read : ), 2 Aug 2007
By 
Lies Inc. (Lancashire ,England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Secret River (Paperback)
I'm not given to sweeping staments but I can honestly say that this is the most beautiful book I have read in many , many years . It's the story of a man living on the bottom rung of lifes ladder in 19th century London who is driven to crime by necessity and is subsequently deported to Australia where he struggles to create a new life for himself and his family .
The hostile landscape and the ever increasing friction between the new settlers and the indigenuos aboriginal popultion threaten to upset his plans to make a new home .
The story is told with such compassion and humanity that I was swept up into the world of William Thornhill and literally couldn't put the book down . I can picture the Hawkesbury River and Thornhill's Point , I can hear the chanting coming from the aboriginal camp over the hill and a hundred other things as if I had been there and had experienced them personally .
This is a magical book that everyone should read and that will stay with me for a very long time .
Having now read all the books shortlisted for the 2006 Booker prize I can only say the Kate Grenville was robbed :)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's No Secret That It's Great, 30 Jan 2010
By 
Simon Savidge Reads "Simon" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secret River (Paperback)
It might actually be like preaching to the converted to say what this book is about as I have a feeling that most people have already given it a whirl. However, maybe as I hadn't read it until now there might be some more people out there who don't know what this book is all about.

The Secret River opens with a kind of prologue called `Strangers' as William Thornhill arrives fresh off The Alexander in New South Wales, Australia as one of the convicts sent to serve a life sentence in 1806. On dry land he comes across one of the aboriginals a man `as black as the air itself' and what follows is the scene of two men, neither understanding the other sussing each other out. Now this opening scene appeared rather random to me because three pages in you are in the poverty stricken streets of London in the late 1700's. As the book develops in its different parts you soon come to understand the significance of it as The Secret River is not just about the first convicts to Australia, it is also about racism and a rather dark time in Australia's history as men try and stake their claims on the continent and in doing so tragic and horrific events unfold.

What I think that Grenville has done in this book which is incredibly clever is give you the back story of William Thornhill and his wife Sal so that you have seen them struggle and fight through poverty, sickness, death and despair through their lives in London and so you come to like them. Therefore when they then become embroiled in situations in the future you have a real difficulty as a reader to then separate the people and the circumstances and the conclusions they bring. I can't say any more than that as wouldn't want to give the story away; it did make me really think though as well as affecting, horrifying and unnerving me.

I was impressed how quickly I was pulled into this book and ended up reading it in four sittings. I can be a little hit and miss with historic fiction yet before I knew it I had gotten through half of the book. A stunning novel that will leave you thinking about it for days after a rather large dark twist in its tail.
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82 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A grand and multifaceted novel, 11 Oct 2006
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Secret River (Paperback)
This was a compelling read - one family's struggle against a world which they did not control. Having said that, I have to confess a personal weakness for the histroical epic as a genre.

The central characters feel well well developed, although perhaps more could have been made of the wayward son. But that is minor. The imagery is stunning; the detail beautiful. The plot is gripping, leading to a real page turner - even though the eventual outcome (successful colonization of Australia at the expense of the native population) is well known. I was on tenterhooks to see where Thornhill would end up in the grand history of Australia.

The key theme for me was the rollercoaster ride between empowerment and powerlessness. Thornhill, the petty villain, was willing and eager to better himself - first by training as a boatman and marrying above his station, then as a trader in the new territories, and then as a farmer/landowner. But against this ambition, there were circumstances which he couldn't control. Illness and debt of his in-laws; the fate of the courts when caught pilfering; the elements; and the native Australians.

Thornhill and his homesick wife Sal were so eager to do the right thing, but the tragedy was that circumstances could not permit them, simultaneously, to do the right thing by each other and also by human justice. Powerlessness meant Thornhill had to choose between his conscience and his livelihood - in London, in Sydney and by the banks of the Hawkesbury. Meanwhile, others made their own choices and reaped the various consequences.

The novel sets the hope of the settlers and the tragedy of the native population against one another to perfection. It would have been easy to take a moralistic stance, but Ms Grenville does not. She leaves it for the reader to draw their own conclusions. The natives were [probably] not a peaceable population who were willing to be embraced - the settlers were not [all] bloodthirsty brutes.

This lack of black and white simplicity means I still can't work out in my own mind whether Thornhill ultimately called it right or wrong. And it is Ms Grenville's achievement that I care.

I was also touched with sadness as Sal's dream of a return to London began to diminish - particularly because it never seemed to be replaced with a love of her new home.

This is a grand and multifaceted novel - it takes big themes but has the humanity of the family level. This novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It would have been a worthy winner.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pulls you in as you read, 1 May 2007
By 
lilysmum "lilysmum65" (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secret River (Paperback)
This book started slowly for me but by the end I was hooked. It tells the story of a man transported to Australia with his wife (who keeps on giving him children) and their battle to survive, which brings them up against the Aborigines. It's remarkably realistic in its portrayal of the conflict, in that you can see very clearly the images the author creates in your mind, every gesture noted with care.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Affecting - One man's story in a new world -, 5 Feb 2009
By 
Kasey J "Kc J" (Australia/London) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Secret River (Paperback)
I wont go into the storyline as others have done so enough.

A colleague from work handed me this book and said it was about London and Australia and I might be interested after living in London for 7 years and coming from Australia originally.

I felt I connected with the story from both ends, could see and picture where it all began for one of the first times in my life. I recommend this book to anyone who just wants to hear a story, it helped get me back into reading again.

I'd definitely buy the book, and recommend it on to any age. It seems realistic and shocking enough and demonstrates both sides of those thrown into a country with no establishment while describing enough what it must have felt like from the other side.

Well done Kate for all your research and effort. I thought about this story for a long time after I had finished it. Definitely affected me.

:)
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It seemed that he had become another person altogether...", 1 Aug 2009
By 
Friederike Knabe "Books are funny little port... (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Secret River (Paperback)
This review is dedicated to the late Stephen Haines, also known as "The Bunyip", who kindled more interest in me for early Australian history than he ever knew. He also urged me to read THE SECRET RIVER. Unusual for him, he highlighted one short paragraph only in our copy. In a way, though, it sums up the aspiration and dilemma for the central character, William Thrornhill, and many of the early European settlers in Australia: "...It was a piercing hunger in his guts: to own it. To say MINE, in a way he had never been able to say MINE of anything at all" (p.106).

Through exploring the life of this one person, Kate Grenville probes fundamental issues of social and cultural identity, ethnic conflict and personal morality. With a confident, yet surprisingly gentle and subtle voice, the author has presented us with an extraordinary novel, rich with historical detail, evocative in its description of the natural landscape, and stirring in its examination of the depth of human emotions, whether love or hate, tolerance or greed.

The novel, inspired and loosely based on the author's own ancestor, follows young William Thornhill from his family's desolately poor circumstances in London in the late seventeen eighties to Australia where he, as a deported felon, is given a second chance to build a better existence for himself and his beloved Sal, his childhood sweetheart, wife and centre of his emotional life.

William is a big, simple fellow, illiterate, a "waterman", used to ferrying people and goods from one side of the Thames to the other. Once arrived in Sydney in 1806, and released into the custody of his wife, he takes up his trade again while Sal manages the household, an increasing number of children as well as some lucrative business on the side. After joining Thomas Blackwood, a former acquaintance, on his trade ship, supplying a scattered group of settlers along the Hawkesbury river and bringing their goods back to the city, William discovers and nurtures a new ambition: owning a piece of land and settle into future comfort with his family. Grenville sensitively captures the deep emotions awakening with his plan while at the same time, and subtly, hinting to the reader at his naivety and the complexity of any such endeavour.

The primary impediment to his and other settlers' ambition is that the land around the small farm holdings is not "empty" of inhabitants, i.e. a "terra nullius", despite the official British definition of the colony at the time. The countryside around Sydney and elsewhere across the land had been lived in by aboriginal peoples for the longest time, their philosophy and lifestyle so different that is was bound to result in conflict with the Europeans. Grenville portrays every possible kind of likely encounter between settlers and Aboriginals: from quietly tolerating each other with or without efforts to communicate and trade to the different levels of conflict and violent action and counter action in the attempt to rid the land of the "blacks", accompanied by any name calling imaginable. In the bars in Sydney and at social gatherings among the neighbouring settlers - all "emancipists", meaning former convicts - the fisherman's yarn usually centres around the most recent attack by blacks, or new ideas how to chase them away or worse.

Thanks to his wife's strong sense of morality and her important influence over his own understanding of reality, William, in due course the proud occupant of one piece of land along the river, is increasingly torn between the promise he made to her not to engage in violence, but rather to "give a little - take a little" when dealing with his aboriginal neighbours, and the pressure from other settlers to take a strong and decisive stand against the "blacks". How much should he share his worries with his wife? While Sal remains William's moral compass, Grenville uses the changing levels of the couple's intimacy as a delicate barometer to reflect which side of his inner conflict is gaining the upper hand. In the end, William is forced to take the most fateful decision of his life: it sets the direction for his future in more ways than is to be expected. While he may have convinced himself that he HAS become "another person altogether", the question nevertheless lingers for the reader for quite some time.

Kate Grenville has presented us with an essential book, the importance of which reaches far beyond Australia and the early (and later) treatment of its aboriginal peoples. Through an engaging and dramatic narrative, she has painted a portrait of a group of people, centred around William Thornhill, all in a way representative for early settlers, their challenges and missed opportunities or not. She is letting the facts speak for themselves and the different voices present their individual standpoints. Rather than moralizing with the 20/20 perspective of hindsight, she gives the reader much food for thought and reflection and instills the curiosity for more reading on the early history of Australia. [Friederike Knabe]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What went wrong?, 14 July 2012
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This review is from: The Secret River (Kindle Edition)
I found The Secret River a huge disappointment. It began promisingly with some vivid and engaging storytelling. But by the time our hero stepped off the boat in Australia my interest had already begun to fade, not least because that long and arduous journey was shrugged off like a Quantas flight.

I read to the end hoping William would either receive come-uppence for his treatment of the indigenous peoples or find redemption. But he didn't. Such an absence of likeable characters made for a difficult read.

Three stars then? Because the writing itself was beautiful.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Secret River, 4 Feb 2012
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This review is from: The Secret River (Kindle Edition)
I found The Secret River to be very hard going. It took me a week to finish, despite most books taking me a couple of hours - because I simply did not get on with it!

The main character William Thornhill came across to me as a completely selfish man, so distracted by his wish to own property Australia that he was willing to ignore his wife's wishes, and even murder the aborigines who dared to continue their life on "his" land.

I can't deny that the book was well written, nor will I deny that I can see why so many people have recommended it to me, I just didn't feel that I could relate to any of the characters - and I didn't feel that I wanted to relate to any of the characters.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative but something is missing, 24 Jan 2011
By 
H. Lacroix (France) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secret River (Paperback)
I have just finished the secret river and I don't think I'll remember it for very long. I can't say I disliked the book, I even thought it was rather eloquent on the subject of why so many people found themselves in New South Wales, driven to theft and transportation because of dire poverty. I also thought that the settling into a completely new world that had nothing in common with the old one was rather well done as well.What didn't work for me was that I never felt any connection to the main protagonists. I read but remained unmoved, unconcerned by most of what William and Sal had to go through. The author never managed to give them a proper voice, to flesh them out so that one felt for and with them! At least this is how I found it but your own reading experience might differ wildly from mine.
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The Secret River
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
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