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Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review: The Secret River - Provocative and Illuminating

The Secret River (2006) by Orange Prize-winning author Kate Grenville is a provocative novel of the settlement of New South Wales by exiled British criminals. It is the illuminating story of husband, father and petty thief William Thornhill and the path he followed from the utter poverty of the slums of London to prison and finally freedom. When he sentenced to death for stealing some lumber his sentence of death is commuted to transportation to Australia with his pregnant wife, Sal, and a flock of children. 

Thornhill leads a life of convict servitude, the fate of all those transported to the new British colony, and gradually works his way through the penal system until he transforms himself into a trader on the Hawkesbury River. He regularly sails by an appealing piece of virgin soil and when he gains his freedom he and his family move onto the land, raise another rude hut and begin to cultivate corn.

But he soon realizes the British are not the first people to settle in New South Wales and he and his family forge a tenuous coexistence with a small band of Aborigines camping nearby. The uneasy relationship is shattered by violence by other settlers on the river and Thornhill is drawn into the storm against his will.
Review by Peter Critchley of the Vernon Branch

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