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Customer Review

59 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No easy answers, 24 April 2012
This review is from: Sarah Thornhill (Paperback)
Australia has issues with the role and status of Aboriginal people. Much of the current bad situation is believed to have been set in train by previous poor decisions dating right back to the settlement by Europeans and to have been compounded by mistake after mistake. Kate Grenville has addressed this previously in The Secret River and The Lieutenant.

In Sarah Thornhill, Kate Grenville takes us one generation further forward. The young Sarah doesn't have memories of "home"; she is a member of the first generation of Europeans to know only Australia. This allows some of the initial charting and claim-staking by her parents to be ancient history. One of the intriguing aspects of Australian history is how much written detail there is of the convict and migrant generations whilst the relatively recent social history in Australia has been lost to the mists of time.

Thus, the young Sarah has to delve and dig to discover who she is; who her parents really are; and who her family is. Much of this is delivered through grudging whispers and insinuations in a society where neighbours are shunned and strangers receive a hostile reception. Sarah initially seeks solace in her encounters with Aboriginal families who wander across the Thornhill land - until her father puts her straight. Instead, she is sent off to marry a young Irish man whom she tries hard to love.

This is contrasted with the different relationship that European settlers forged with the Maori population in New Zealand - where the Maori culture was embraced and allowed to flourish. At least, that's the story; the reality may have been less rosy at times. Sarah is brought into a position where she has to consider her family relationships and ties in the light of discovering the truth about various family members. History tells us that her well meaning efforts are ultimately going to be in vain and this means that much of the novel is akin to watching an inevitable car crash.

Kate Grenville has tackled a difficult subject with considerable sensitivity. It lacks some of the immediacy of The Secret River but rediscovers some of the personal depth that was missing from The Lieutenant which felt, sometimes, rather too academic. Sarah Thornhill is not a perfect novel and the ending does feel a little contrived, but it is nevertheless very moving. The novel is written in an accessible style with complex characterisation; the tone is non-judgemental; the focus is seldom on how past events occurred - much more on what people are going to do given the position they find themselves in. In doing this, it doesn't feel as though Grenville is preaching and she doesn't offer easy answers.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Apr 2014 19:25:51 BDT
Bubbles says:
I'm a bit confused, you mentioned the lieutenant as being part of the 'trilogy' but I can find nothing that says it is. Most reviewers just seemed to have read the secret river and this one. Can you help?

Posted on 26 Apr 2014 19:26:19 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 26 Apr 2014 19:26:28 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Apr 2014 12:04:51 BDT
The Lieutenant was written after The Secret River and addressed a number of issues that critics and social commentators had raised regarding The Secret River. It was set at an earlier time and with different characters. Sarah Thornhill returns to the characters and setting of The Secret River. The three books do form a loose trilogy of novels dealing with the early days of European settlement in Australia but is not a trilogy in the sense of three continuous novels.
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Location: Melbourne

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