Monday, November 28, 2016

The Secret River

The Secret River, by Kate Grenville

I scootched in just before the deadline!  I wanted to participate in Brona's AusReading Month, so I picked out a book that's been on my mental (not literal) TBR pile for a few years--Kate Grenville's The Secret River, which (in case you care) won the Commonwealth Prize and was in the finals for the Man Booker Prize.  I got kind of bogged down when it became obvious that really unhappy things were going to take place, but then I gathered up my courage and read the second half in a day.

William Thornhill is a London waterman who--like most laborers--steals here and there to get by.  When he's caught, he's sentenced to death, but gains a merciful sentence of transportation, together with his beloved wife Sal and their baby.  He lands in Sydney in 1806, and after years of labor, gains his own ship and a route carrying goods between tiny farms and the town.  Will's dream is to own some land himself, but eventually he has to deal with the people who already live there.

Grenville's writing is lovely, and it's easy to be drawn into Will and Sal's lives.  We actually get Will's entire life story, and honestly I enjoyed that part most.  None of Will's life is fun or anything, but the London part is easier to read.   But, while I liked Sal a lot, I do not love Will.  He seems...wishy-washy to me; he often doesn't so much make decisions as just float along, even when he knows he's following men who aren't worth a thing.  Although Will is the one whose head we live in, I understand Sal a lot better.

A very good novel, but no light or enjoyable read, or one that I will return to with fond memories.  Hard stuff.


Kailana said...

I have had this on my radar forever, but haven't read it. One day it will happen!

Brona Joy said...

This was a tough read and sections of this book have been much debated in Australia (for one such commentary I recommend this article)

The Thornhill character was actually loosely based on one of Grenville's ancestors, Solomon Wiseman (I'd love to read a proper biography of this ancestor).
If you'd like to read a thoughtful non-fiction book about early relations between the early white settlers and the Aborigines, I highly recommend Inga Clendinnen's book, Dancing with Strangers.

Thank you for joining in AusReadingMonth again :-)