The Secret River by Kate Grenville (Jill)

The Secret River
By Kate Grenville
Completed October 19, 2008

The Secret River by Kate Grenville, for me, was a meandering story, winding its way slowly but steadily into a tale of sad success. Will Thornhill, convicted for stealing in England, was sent to Australia with his wife and children to serve out his sentence. Will was a river man and saw the openness of Australia as a way to make a good living –a place where he can be free in every sense of the word.

After serving his sentence, Will claimed 100 acres and settled his family along a riverbank occupied by fellow Brits and (understandably) inhospitable natives. His wife, Sal, a strong-willed, sensible woman agreed to this settlement with a promise that they would return to London in five years. But in Will’s heart, he knew that his 100 acres was the only way to carve a living that would provide for his family without the English societal restraints.

Grenville’s account of the struggles between the colonists and aboriginal people was eye-opening and compelling. In a modern context, we know what happened of this struggle, but it was mesmerizing and suspenseful to see this story play out in an early 19th century setting.

Grenville has an easy writing style and her ability to draw her characters is superb. My only complaint about The Secret River was that it started too slowly for me. I say this with a grain of salt – there was a lot going on in my life when I started this book, which may have ruined my focus. For me, the second half of the book, when Will and his family settled on to their land, was exhilarating and gripping. The ending left me with a sense of sadness that reminded me that colonialism and the greed of a country can leave people heart-broken, even if they seem successful on paper.

This is my first Kate Grenville book but certainly not my last. I would recommend The Secret River to readers who enjoy quality literary and historical fiction. ( )