- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (7 Sept. 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 184195828X
- ISBN-13: 978-1841958286
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 225 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 582,686 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Secret River Paperback – 7 Sep 2006
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"Grenville, as ever, describes an Australia so overwhelmingly beautiful that readers will lust after its sunbaked soul too." -- Daily Telegraph
In this dazzling novel . . . Grenville achieves a fine balance of
sympathy for the Aboriginal population of her native Australia . .
-- The Independent, 1/09/06
a vivid evocation of the rawest kind of colonialism -- Waterstone's Books Quarterly
This story is set in 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...See all Product description
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The main character(convict) and his wife are shipped off to Australia and eventually they earn their freedom (of sorts) after much hard work. They assume a plot of land and work to be self sufficient (still in Australia, but in the wilds), however the locals are not happy with the settlers.
I won't spoil the story but the horrific slaughter of the black locals is sickening. I felt that it was unnecessarily long and graphic. I hated the ending, hence the mixed review and rating.
An emotional read as it describes what life was really like for the first 'settlers' (convicts etc) in Australia and the impact they had on the indigenous aboriginal population. It's a part of the history of both countries that should never be forgotten.
I'm reviewing it again now having downloaded it onto my Kindle (originally bought it in paperback). There's been so much publicity about the BBC's Banished that I thought I'd read the novel again. Well, sorry, I wasn't impressed by Banished and only watched the first episode. If you really want to understand what life was like, then read this!!
Incidentally, Kate Grenville also wrote a book called 'Searching for the Secret River' - well worth reading as it is the story behind the actual novel.
It took a while to get going (indeed, my mate got half way through and gave up). That said, the earlier part is interesting, but just a little slow. However, it really grabbed me as I had to start making decisions with Thornhill about what was the right thing to do.
The author balanced the argument very well - it was never black and white, if you'll excuse the pun. On the one hand, the settlers like Thornhill didn't want conflict with the natives, they'd worked hard and sacrificed much to gain the pitifully small amount they had, they were fighting against the odds to survive in an environment they just didn't understand and were so ill equipped for; so you feel enormous sympathy for them when the natives steal their crops. However, the author never lets you forget that the land belongs to the natives, they are indeed a part of it as much as the trees, the rocks and he soil are a part of it. It's their land that has been stolen from them.
"You give a little, you take a little." Blackwood's advice is so pertinent to us all in this global world. We must try to live in harmony with other people, even if they're different from us and we don't really understand. Had Thornhill sectioned off a piece of his land for the natives, shown them how to cultivate it to grow plentiful supplies of their daisy roots, maybe they'd have shown him how to kill a kangaroo and before they'd known it, they'd have been living side by side, each becoming more successful in their turn.
One other thing worth a mention - the author creates an incredibly vivid sense of place. You can feel and smell it. You understand how Thornhill becomes so strongly emotionally connected to it. It's just just that it's the first thing in his life he's ever been able to call his own; it's the magnificent beauty of the place. But not just beautiful - so potentially dangerous and so incredibly difficult for man to tame.
A thought-provoking book. Worth a read.
Of course, some of the book covers, unflinchingly, the conflicts between the new settlers and the Aborigines.
The scenes of life, both in London and in Australia were painted well but I found I just didn't care enough about the family. The book is divided into sections and as I reached the end of each section, there was little urging me onto the next. Even at the point where he has to make a difficult decision, I didn't get the *feeling* that it was the most difficult decision of his life and just telling me wasn't enough. When the book finished, I was expecting another chapter/section to go (not least because my Kindle edition said it was only at 86%). The ending was a bit flat for me and a bit 'summary' - where everyone is a few years in the future but not how they got there.
Another note on my Kindle edition - when I reached the end, it said there were some chapters of a new book - a sequel to this one - following. However there wasn't - it was just a repeat of some chapters in the middle of the book.
Overall, it was interesting, and at times uncomfortable. It just didn't grip me I'm afraid.
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