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The Secret River Paperback – Sep 28 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Harper Collins Canada; 1st Edition edition (Sept. 28 2006)
  • ISBN-10: 0006480705
  • ISBN-13: 978-1921145254
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,449,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Teddy on Feb. 15 2006
Format: Hardcover
The Secret River by Kate Grenville is historical fiction at it's finest. It starts off as a quiet pondering story of the toils in poverty-stricken 19th century England where most must resort to stealing to survive. Here Grenville focused on her central character, William Thornhill who got caught thieving to feed his family. He was sentenced to death, however that was commuted to life in New South Wales.
The story then turns to the survival of the Thornhill family in a new world, with a harsh hot climate and struggles with it's original inhabitants, the aboriginals.
Grenville writes in a quite meditative style until the Thornhills encounter the aboriginals. Then she breaks out as she shows the brutal price that must be paid by both the new inhabitants and aboriginals of New South Wales. The Secret River is a very satisfying read that will make you hungry to read more by Kate Grenville!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER on Feb. 28 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautifully written novel about early white settlers in Australia and about the impact of such settlement on the indigenous inhabitants. It is also a novel about opportunities and opportunism.

In 1806, William Thornhill, convict, arrives in New South Wales transported for the term of his natural life.

In Kate Grenville's words: 'He had been condemned to death, and then to life.'

He is assigned as a convict labourer to his wife, Sal, and 8 years later is free to claim 100 acres along the Hawkesbury River.

William sees a future in New South Wales whereas Sal would like to return to London. This tension - between the known and the unknown - is one of the underlying themes of the novel. While personal to William and Sal, it also underwrites much of Australian colonial history.

When the Thornhills move to the Hawkesbury we see firsthand the impact of european settlement on the indigenous inhabitants. While the novel concentrates on the european perspective, it does not ignore the original inhabitants.

As The Secret River moves beyond the story of William Thornhill, convict, into the life of William Thornhill, emancipist, so New South Wales develops from a convict outpost to a european settlement in a foreign country.

This novel was inspired by Kate Grenville's research into her own family history.

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on Feb. 1 2007
Format: Hardcover
Australian writers seem to have strong ties to the histories of their own forebears. Thomas Keneally, Richard Flanagan and Roger McDonald are but a few authors who have successfully re-painted history on a fictional canvas. Kate Grenville - who in "Joan Makes History" tried to encapsulate all of [European] Australia's history through one imaginary woman - has narrowed her focus with this book. This account of William Thornhill, transplanted Thames River waterman, depicts the kind of person capable of founding a nation. With excellent insight into a man's ambitions, feelings and needs, Grenville chains the reader's interest from the opening pages. Release comes only at the final page, and while satisfying, leaves one seriously disturbed by the cost of "nation building".

Grenville's story isn't new. Thousands of people were "transported" to Australia after 1788, some escaping the gallows, while the rest relieved the intense pressure of British gaols. Thornhill was lucky in his wife Sal's appeal to escort William being successfully considered. There were few women in Port Jackson, and a wife brought stability. Grenville offers a fine touch of irony in William's being "assigned" to Sal as a "working convict". Again, as he had in London, William becomes a waterman - helping a boat owner ferry cargo up and down the Hawkesbury River. While conveying along the river, Thornhill spots a point of land amenable to homesteading.

Thornhill and Sal begin scrabbling a home in the bush, but immediately confront a major obstacle. The key issue in "founding" the nation of Australia is that it was already occupied. Although the British Privy Council would declare an entire continent "terra nullus" - unoccupied land - , the Aborigines, who had lived there for thousands of years, knew otherwise.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe TOP 50 REVIEWER on Aug. 9 2009
Format: Paperback
This review is dedicated to the late Stephen A. Haines, one of top reviewers on amazon, who kindled more interest in me for early Australian history than he ever knew. He also urged me to read THE SECRET RIVER. Unusual for him, he highlighted one short paragraph only in our copy. In a way, though, it sums up the aspiration and dilemma for the central character, William Thrornhill, and many of the early European settlers in Australia: "...It was a piercing hunger in his guts: to own it. To say MINE, in a way he had never been able to say MINE of anything at all" (p.106). Through exploring the life of this one person, Kate Grenville probes fundamental issues of social and cultural identity, ethnic conflict and personal morality. With a confident, yet surprisingly gentle and subtle voice, the author has presented us with an extraordinary novel, rich with historical detail, evocative in its description of the natural landscape, and stirring in its examination of the depth of human emotions, whether love or hate, tolerance or greed.

The novel, inspired and loosely based on the author's own ancestor, follows young William Thornhill from his family's desolately poor circumstances in London in the late seventeen eighties to Australia where he, as a deported felon, is given a second chance to build a better existence for himself and his beloved Sal, his childhood sweetheart, wife and centre of his emotional life.

William is a big, simple fellow, illiterate, a "waterman", used to ferrying people and goods from one side of the Thames to the other. Once arrived in Sydney in 1806, and released into the custody of his wife, he takes up his trade again while Sal manages the household, an increasing number of children as well as some lucrative business on the side.
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