30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
A fascinating story,
This review is from: The Secret River (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. But it is actually much more than that and raised (in a subtle way) lots of issues about power, class and colonisation. How easily someone who has been a victim can become the bully! Just like the old Yeats' poem about the beggar on horseback lashing the beggar on foot.
A fascinating story about the early times in New South Wales.
I'm glad I picked up The Secret River. I left it in the next hotel and hope that by now someone else has chosen it!