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The Secret River by Kate Grenville

The Secret River (original 2005; edition 2006)

by Kate Grenville

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2,044973,267 (3.8)465
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)

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    Searching for the Secret River by Kate Grenville (relah)
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Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
Grenville's depiction of daily life in London and unsettled South Wales is impressive, detailed, and filled with a clear appreciation for both nature and history. In fact, once the story moved to South Wales, I sometimes felt I was reading a piece of nature writing more so than a novel. This, essentially, ends up being the problem with the text. While the story is certainly realistic and detailed, the characters are mere silhouettes from history for the vast majority of the novel. Absolutely, they are believable, but they are also simply drawn, and incredibly flat considering the scope of the novel.

At the climax of the work, well into the novel, the characters come more into focus, Grenville's writing of plot and action excelling as she writes what is, fairly clearly, at the heart of the book (and perhaps the reason for the book in its entirety?). Afterward, however, the characters move back to the background, their story only important as it stands as a frontal lens for history.

Readers who want the history more than a great read will, most certainly, appreciate the book, and it certainly does give a view to a little enough discussed piece of history. That said, as a novel and as a story to explore for story and character...it's not something I'd recommend, lovely as the writing may be. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Nov 15, 2014 |
William Thornhill is sent to jail in London for thieving. He gets the opportunity to choose between a punishment of death in England or exile to Australia, so his wife Sal and their infant are soon on their way to the outback. Once there life is anything but simple. As the couple struggle to survive they are tested on every front.

Where Thornhill sees an opportunity his wife sees a lonely life in the wilderness. They decide to take their chances and begin to farm. They are soon introduced to the small community in the area and the contentious relationship between the native aboriginal people and the new English immigrants. Many misunderstandings arise because of the cultural differences between the people. The people have a hard time finding common ground because of their unique view of landownership and very different styles of celebrations.

Fear is what drives people to destroy what they don’t understand. The tragic consequences are a stain on the entire country’s history. They haunt the characters long after they become a distant memory. I loved that the story gives a voice to both sides of the issue. Many of the white people didn’t understand the harm they were doing. They were afraid and when they decided to act in fear they were bound to make a bad decision. The persecution of the aboriginal people is shown in a way that allows the reader to understand how things could have escalated so quickly.

BOTTOM LINE: The story is a powerful one. It revisits the age old question; do the ends justify the means? For me the characters were a little stale, but I have found myself thinking about different aspects of the plot since I finished it two months ago. It’s not one I’ll reread, but I think it offers a valuable glimpse into the difficult relationship between immigrants and the native people in any country. ( )
  bookworm12 | Oct 23, 2014 |
This is an excellent historical fiction novel about life in the early colonies of Australia, or New South Wales as it was called at the time. The book follows the life of William Thornhill who grows up in utter poverty in London at the end of the 18th century. He falls in love with and marries Sal, whose father works on the Thames and apprentices William as a waterman. Things start to turn the corner for William and he sees a way that his life could turn out ok. Unfortunately circumstances change and he ends up in Newgate for stealing, condemned to death. He is granted life, but shipped with his wife and son to Australia. This first part of the book was familiar and nothing new to me - I've read many historical fiction novels about the poor and down-trodden in London - but the life the family leads in New South Wales was a different story.

Thornhill fairly quickly buys his pardon and gets enough cash working on the water to have some options. The one he chooses is to break into the uncharted forest with his young family, staking his claim on a hundred acres of land with no regard for the native blacks who already live there. The struggle between him, the other white settlers, and the natives is dark and brutal. I certainly wasn't rooting for Thornhill or the other settlers. Grenville does a convincing job of portraying the mindset of Thornhill, how he could think it was his right to claim this land, without beating the reader over the head with "deep messages". I thought she also kept an eye on how his time in poverty and as a prisoner affected his need to own land and kept him always wanting more. The book is told from the perspective of the white settlers, but she manages to still show how well the native society functioned, even though it was so different from the white society and the settlers really didn't understand or value it at all.

Overall, I thought Grenville handled this time period with a lot of insight and depth. Though the subject matter was hard to read about, I highly recommend this book. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | Aug 8, 2014 |
A disturbing but exceptionally well-written and researched historical novel about the early settlement of Australia. I was very interested in the background story in London of William Thornhill and was tearing through it but when the family moves to land on the river and tries to settle it, I could see the coming confrontation with Aborigines and I just slowed and stopped for a while. I finally pushed on but it really was horrific when the final massacre of the natives happened. I could not read some of the more graphic parts and I really kept wishing that he had just turned around and left his land. The ending was very enigmatic; Thornhill becomes very successful but it seems all the settlers have a very hollow victory, indeed. I'm thinking about Crossing this one, I'm not sure I have the strength to read it again.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
There was nothing in this book to make it stand out from all the other stories of a man (sometimes with a wife or a wife and children) who is forced out of his current situation and heads to the wilderness to start a new life. He has to kill a lot of people along the way but makes a success of himself, becomes wealthy and yet has some dissatisfaction. ( )
  cacky | Jun 23, 2014 |
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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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4 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Canongate Books

An edition of this book was published by Canongate Books.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 1921351861, 1922147427

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