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The Secret River by Kate Grenville

The Secret River (original 2005; edition 2006)

by Kate Grenville

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2,1601083,006 (3.8)490
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

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The Secret River by Kate Grenville (2005)

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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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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 |
Slow start - better at end ( )
  busterrll | May 6, 2016 |
Well-written and interesting. It was fascinating to experience the life of early European settlers in Australia and their interactions with the aborigines, it also quite depressing. ( )
  Connie-D | Jan 17, 2016 |
Although the ending was a bit of a disappointment, I really enjoyed this. ( )
  Bagpuss | Jan 17, 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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7 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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