Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Secret River by Kate Grenville- 2005

Great thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to read The Secret River

A Great Reading Life Idea from Buried in Print

When Buried in Print, whose literary book blog  I have happily followed for years,suggested I read The Secret River by Kate Grenville I read the description on Amazon and at once hit the purchase now button.  The Secret River turned out to be one of the most interesting, exciting, insightful historical novels I have read in a long time.  It can be read for sheer enjoyment and as an in depth view of early days of the English occupation of Australia, showing the terrible hardships faced by the early transported convict settlers and devastation this wrought on the aboriginal inhabinets, there long before recorded history anywhere.

The opening chapters reminded me of Dickens.  Our lead character William Thornbill is raised in poverty. He luckily gets a position as an apprentice boatmen on Thames.  He functions like a water cab, taking what he calls the gentry to the theater and such.  He also takes freight loads.  Grenville vividly brings to life just how hard this work was.  The Apprenticeship is for Seven years.  When it ends all seems going well for him, he marries for mutual love Sal, the daughter of his boss, who gives him his own boat as a wedding gift.  I very much was in sympathy with William and Sal but i knew something terrible was going to happen and it does!  Grenville shows us how precarious life was for most people at that time in London.  The account of how he and Sal and their baby get transported to Australia is just so marvelous.

The trip to Australia takes nine months, during this time women and children are kept seperated from men.  The arrival in Australia is so wonderful.  Upon arrival convicts were assigned to settlers, Sal was not a convict, most of women were London streetwalkers, so her husband is assigned to her.  Sal and William have a wonderful and loving relationship, staying bonded through very bad times.

Three years go by, another baby born.  We really get the feel for convict life.  Sal starts a pub in their house.  One of customers is an aborigine, terribly addicted to drink who dances for the customers.  There is just so much to like sbout this book!

William buys on credit a good sized boat, sets up an hundred acre holding in the country on a river.  He makes good money with his boat.  The settlers live on grounds overlapping native grounds.  The ablrginals seem to have no notion of property, gobabout to unclothed, steal and can be killers with their Spears.  Grenville’s treatment of the encounters between the two very different cultures is brilliant.  I understood the fear of the settlers.  The settlers range in attitude to those who see the natives as vermin to a man in deep sympathy for them who has a child with native woman.

Horrible violence is done on both sides.  

The Thornbill’s have several more children.  They grow up strong in the Australian bush.

Grenville’s description of natural and animal life is a joy.  The Thornbills end up being quite fond of roasted kangaroo!

There are numerous minor characters.  Each one developed 
perfectly.  The Thornbill’s children can be seen as the first generation of Australia born English.  

The Secret River is first rate historical fiction.  Americans and Canadians can relate their history to Australia.  

This is part one of a three part trilogy set in Colonial Australia.  I will soon read Sarah Thornbill, about the last child of the Thornhills, as a young woman raised in comfort with servants in a Villa where there once was a mud hut.

I endorse this for all lovers of historical fiction.

I loved The Sacred River.  

Mel u


Buried In Print said...

So pleased that you connected so wholly with this story. And enough to read on! It does feel like Dickens, in the way that you fall into the telling of it.

Even though there are some painful bits, I never considered not reading : I simply had to know what happened and, also, knowing that she was writing out of historical questions (her family history) made me feel more engaged with the story too.

I remember feeling the ending was just "right" although I no longer remember exactly what it was (I have a guess but I will have to reread to see if my memory is correct).

She is one of my MustReadEverything authors. I first "discovered" her on the shelves of the local feminist bookstore (which closed many years ago) and wrote a school paper on Albion's Story and Lillian's Story many years ago (very different stories from these). Now I must catch up with her!

Mel u said...

Buried in Print. There are lots of small touches in The novel. Such as How one of The sons turns against his father and why