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The Secret River by Kate Grenville

The Secret River (original 2005; edition 2006)

by Kate Grenville

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2,2681112,822 (3.81)505
Title:The Secret River
Authors:Kate Grenville
Info:Canongate (2006), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:owned, literary fiction, Australia, aboriginals, moral issues, audible, audio

Work details

The Secret River by Kate Grenville (2005)

  1. 20
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    jayne_charles: More Antipodean colonial pioneers
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    Searching for the Secret River by Kate Grenville (relah)
    relah: In this small book, Kate Grenville explores her family history and how her research into it led to her novel, The Secret River.
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    inbedwithbooks: Deze boeken zijn zusters!
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    Remembering Babylon by David Malouf (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Very similar theme.
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    Wanting by Richard Flanagan (merry10)

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Beautifully written, this was a painful story of the settling of Australia by British convicts in the 1700s - focusing primarily on one man, Thornhill, and his wife Sal, we come to see the motivation of poor, hopeless people who have lost all dreams of a good life to create a new future in a new land, rough and filled with the possibility of success - the native aboriginals and their life in harmony with the land are dishonored and displaced by these intruders and violence ensues -

Kate Grenville did a beautiful job of creating a sense of place and, mostly through the eyes of the newcomers, was able to weave a credible story that showed sensitivity to both sides - I loved her use of words and was very moved by this book. ( )
  njinthesun | Dec 31, 2016 |
Kate Grenville's novel The secret river is a dramatic story not often told, and a multiple-layered novel. The story begins with the life of the Thornhills, William and Sal, in utter poverty in London. When William is caught stealing his death sentence is changed to deportation of his whole family to New South Wales. After a few years in the colony, like many (ex-) convicts, Thornhill thrives, establishing a life of comfort unbeknownst to people like him in London. While Sal wants to set money aside to return to England, with the risk of losing everything again and falling back into a life of poverty, William Thornhill wants to stay and stake a claim to a piece of land of his fancy. For years he observes the plot and when he finally wants to stake his claim it appears to be taken. But William ignores the signs, as apparently the digging does not indicate a claim of fellow settlers, but merely the work of some local aborigines, who do not seem to linger.

From this stage, the novel's plot becomes a metaphor for the colonization of Australia, for the land on which seemingly no-one lingers does actually belong to the native inhabitants. The story of the Thornhill family then develops to its ultimate, very dramatic climax.

The secret river is beautifully written, exploring an intriguing theme and portraying both the colonists and the aborigines in a psychologically completely convincing way. It is a strong story of real interest, not only as a historical novel, but also in its implications to the present.

Highly recommended. ( )
  edwinbcn | Oct 8, 2016 |
So I had to read this book for university.

And I really didn't like it. It's one of those books that I wish I didn't have to read. I definitely would've put it down were it not for the fact that I had to read it for a course. Even then, I half-listened to the last part of the audiobook, just to get it over and done with. It's such a shame because this is a piece of Australian literature, and I try, as an Australian, to champion as much of its literature as possible.

I don't like William Thornhill. And I know you're not really supposed to, he's not necessarily a likeable character and stands for a lot of unlikeable people that existed at that time, but ughhhhh Will Thornhill I seriously do not care about you, or your family, or your life. Your innate selfishness and sense of entitlement makes me feel ill, and it's so subversive.

But, in all honesty, I think I didn't enjoy this because I know so much early Australian and first contact history. (I studied it in university, as well as a few literature courses, and Spanish~). I know how ugly it all was, and still is. I know how hard it is to find pieces (oral or written) by Aboriginal people from that period.

... so, this, yeah. I'm still not sure how I feel about this book. It feels like another story, told from the same perspective. Yes, there are Aboriginal characters, they do feature, Grenville does include Australian Aboriginal hunting practices and all of those things, but something about them still feels 'Other'. Of course, Grenville may have felt it wasn't her place to write from an Aboriginal perspective when she doesn't identity as Aboriginal, but there's something about the indigenous characters in this story that makes them almost completely voiceless.

The writing is fine, the plot is decent, the character arcs and developments are interesting enough, but I cannot ignore how this book makes me feel.

And so, because of how this book makes me feel, I'll have to give it one star. ( )
  lydia1879 | Aug 31, 2016 |
William Thornhill was born poor in London at the end of the 1700's, but worked hard to become an apprentice and a waterman on the Thames. He married his master's daughter, Sal, and when unfortunate circumstances force them back into poverty, he gets caught stealing to feed his family. Although sentenced to hang, an appeal has him sentenced to transport on a convict ship to New South Wales. He is allowed to bring his wife and son, and eventually works off his sentence and buys his freedom. From here the story takes Will and his family to a remote piece of land that he wants to call his own. The indigenous people also call the land theirs, and conflicts between the white settlers and the Aborigines become brutal. At first Will tries to coexist, but the mob mentality wins in the end. At times the story is brutal, as you would expect, but the writing is lovely. At the end we find Will wondering why he has everything he wanted, and yet knowing that he isn't happy.

I really enjoyed this, and Simon Vance's narration is terrific. ( )
  NanaCC | May 16, 2016 |
It IS a patch on "Tree of Man"! The cover blurbs compares Kate Grenville with the great Australian novelist Patrick White. There are some echos of Stan Parker making his mark in the bush in 'Tree of Man' with Will Thornhill's settlement on the Hawkesbury a century earlier. Unquestionably White's novel is far better in every respect but Kate Grenville makes a good stab at it. Her novel can't be dismissed as a mere imitator. They are different stories of course but both have the inner monologue of a quiet, moral and industrious man trying to make a home for a family in a wilderness and yet with extremely limited intellectual resources. For just the comparison between to two novels, 'The Secret River' is worth a read.

Grenville follows Will from his early 19th Century childhood in the poverty stricken slums of London and his romance and hope with Sal and her father's row boats (wherries) rowing cargo and passengers across the Thames. Things get worse. Will is convicted to hang but gets a reprieve to transportation to New South Wales. In the colony of Sydney Will and Sal make a go of it and Will takes an opportunity to have a piece of land on the Hawkesbury which brings Will and his family, along with other ex convicts, to confront the Aborigines whose land the Hawkesbury is. The denouement happens, the whites have no capacity to understand the black people nor the rhythms. The whites are from the bottom of a impoverished social order hanging on to an imagined notion that as whites they are civilised and the blacks are savages. Then the slaughter happens with ugly and unnecessary vengeance and an epilogue has Will years later a rich man in his stone house overlooking the river.

The novel has some difficult problems. The story of Will, from inside his head, is not fully convincing. This has to do with it not being a man who is writing. The quality of prose is good, the plot is valid. It is just that, as a man, I do not experience Will as a fellow man. I wondered why Grenville chose to inhabit Will's consciousness and not that of his wife Sal who is a great character. She is with Will the whole way and this story could be told by the woman.

Another difficulty is that book is almost halfway over before Will and family arrive at the river so there isn't enough time for the writer to explore the interface between the blacks and the whites and as a reader I had to bring to this story a lot more information about Australian Aboriginal kinship and relationship to country in order to appreciate the gulf of misunderstanding between the emancipated convicts and the natives.

A third problem is that once the slaughter happens the book just ends; apart from the epilogue of Will's glory as a 'gentleman' of New South Wales. He is estranged from his young son who as a child when they first arrived in Sydney, did get to play with the native children and gained a knowledge without prejudice of the native's dignity and expectation of the whites with whom the seems ready to share the place. An epilogue from the son's point of view would have given breadth and depth to the story.

I'd give this book 3 and a half stars if there was that option. ( )
  Edwinrelf | May 15, 2016 |
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This novel is dedicated to the Aboriginal people of Australia:
past, present and future.
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The Alexander, with its cargo of convicts, had bucked over the face of the ocean for the better part of a year.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Grenville's Australian bestseller, which won the Orange Prize, is an eye-opening tale of the settlement of New South Wales by a population of exiled British criminals. Research into her own ancestry informs Grenville's work, the chronicle of fictional husband, father and petty thief William Thornhill and his path from poverty to prison, then freedom. Crime is a way of life for Thornhill growing up in the slums of London at the turn of the 19th century—until he's caught stealing lumber. Luckily for him, a life sentence in the penal colony of New South Wales saves him from the gallows. With his wife, Sal, and a growing flock of children, Thornhill journeys to the colony and a convict's life of servitude. Gradually working his way through the system, Thornhill becomes a free man with his own claim to the savage land. But as he transforms himself into a trader on the river, Thornhill realizes that the British are not the first to make New South Wales their home. A delicate coexistence with the native population dissolves into violence, and here Grenville earns her praise, presenting the settler–aboriginal conflict with equanimity and understanding. Grenville's story illuminates a lesser-known part of history—at least to American readers—with sharp prose and a vivid frontier family
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Following a childhood marked by poverty and petty crime in the slums of London, William Thornhill is sentenced in 1806 to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife and children, he arrives in a harsh land to a life that feels like a death sentence.… (more)

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Canongate Books

An edition of this book was published by Canongate Books.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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