Searching for the Secret River
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Grenville's skill is to turn what could have been too obviously a representative moral fable into a rich novel of character. * Sunday Telegraph * Grenville, as ever, describes an Australia so overwhelmingly beautiful that readers will lust after its sunbaked soul too. * Daily Telegraph * We have had to wait five years for The Secret River but the wait has been worth it... Splendidly paced, passionate and disturbing. * The Times * --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Kate Grenville is the author of The Idea of Perfection, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction; The Lieutenant; and Searching the Secret River, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The first part of this book is Ms Grenville's personal quest for Wiseman through the records of the Society of Genealogists and the Public Records Office. Identifying the `right' late 18th century Solomon Wiseman is not easy and ultimately Ms Grenville supplements her search through the formal records with her own sense of Solomon Wiseman's presence at Three Cranes Wharf.
Ms Grenville also seeks to obtain a sense of the Aboriginal inhabitants of the Hawkesbury at the time they were dispossessed of their land by Wiseman. She does this through returning to the river, which she had first visited as a short-sighted child. Now, as an adult she is able to see and to sense the past more clearly. Some of Ms Grenville's most vivid writing is of the landscape, especially of the river itself. In many ways, it is this description of the landscape which joins the novel to this book more than the people and the history.
In the second part of the book, Ms Grenville describes the process of creating her novel: describing the struggle involved in blending fact, fiction and physical description to bring the characters and the period to life.
I enjoyed reading this book for the insights into the writing of `The Secret River'.
I use the term "story" deliberately as it reads much more like a story of discovery and less as a writer's guide or even a "memoir". Her exquisite style and rich language that evoke landscapes and city-scapes in such vivid colours and detail that you feel you are walking along with her. Her research into the real great-great-great grandfather was not straight forward, of course, as records were scarce, family stories were not factual and there were numerous Solomon W. and dozens of Wisemans living in London around the same time in the same part of town... How she narrows down her search is also a guide for anybody interested in their own family genealogy - just fascinating. One aspect that helped her later on in her writing (and the reader of the novel will recognize them): she picked up small mementoes, stood on the spot where she imagined her ancestor had been standing. As soon as she made the connection, she can feel him, get under his skin. Only then does the character develop his own persona and as author she has to accept that she follows and he controls.
Immense amount of research spanning several years resulted in filling one major gap in her knowledge or imagination after another. Recreating the language of working class people and fishermen as spoken in the late seventeen nineties was another challenge Grenville had to deal with: Solomon was not literate but later historical documents suggest that he learned to write, although in a stilted, ungrammatical sort of way. While the author made remarkable progress on the male side of her family, the female side, her great-great-great grandmother remained a mystery to her for the longest time. Few information snippets existed in the family archive and memory... so what to do? Her answer, after several false starts, is intriguing, and not only from the perspective of the novel's character development.
The most difficult part of her search and research, however, was to imagine how the real Solomon Wiseman reacted to and interacted with the Aborigines when he and his young family first arrived in Australia. In investigating what might have happened, Grenville realized that she herself lacked much information and knowledge about the life of the aboriginal peoples of her country. Her learning path in this field is deeply moving as she gently and subtly explores what happened at the time of early confrontation and what could have been Wiseman's role in these encounters. For her own life it was another voyage of discovery.
This "writing memoir" is such a beautifully and engagingly written book that it should be seen as an essential compendium for those who read THE SECRET RIVER. For others it is still a great read and probably a motivation to pick up the novel afterwards. [Friederike Knabe]