The Secret River by Kate Grenville (thoughts)
I don’t read many Australian authors; this isn’t intentional, but rather that I just don’t seem to come across all of that many. So when Kim ran her Aussie Lit event back in January, I really wanted to participate. Checking out the lists, Kate Grenville immediately caught my eye, especially her historical trilogy that begins with The Secret River. Imagine my annoyance on discovering that my library had the second one, The Lieutenant, and not the first! Fortunately, a purchase suggestion rectified this oversight, and I was able to read The Secret River, if not quite in time for Aussie Lit month.
Let me tell you, this book was worth the wait. It’s so wonderful: from the first page, I was completely drawn in to the story and invested in Will and Sally Thornhill and their fate. At the same time, I was also invested in the fate of Australia’s aborigines; despite knowing the historical facts, I couldn’t help rooting for them. Grenville does a truly masterful job of acknowledging both sides of the settler experience, and her portrait of a good, decent man who nonetheless gets drawn deeper and deeper into racist acts is simply exquisite. The reader stays with Will through the whole book, and this limited third-person viewpoint fits the story perfectly. And Grenville is a master at deploying subtle tension; for about a hundred pages leading up to the climax, I was getting more and more nervous, almost dreading to turn the page. Such writing! Oh, and her settings are wonderful too: impoverished London newly-forming Sydney and the Australian bush all came to life in their turn. While never taking center stage, the powerful sense of place really grounded the novel. By the time I had finished it, I immediately put in a request at the library for The Lieutenant and a Netgalley request for the third, Sarah Thornhill. This is fiction at its best: powerful themes, vivid settings, characters that worm their way into your heart. I can completely understand why it was Booker shortlisted, although I also think it’s perhaps more readable than a stereotypical Booker novel.
To review: if your reading is also Aussie-deprived, or if you’re just looking for a story to get lost in, run and get yourself some Kate Grenville! Once I finish this trilogy, I definitely intend to explore the rest of her back list. Highly recommended.
Suggested Companion Reads
- The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough (Definitely not as ‘literary’ as The Secret River, but a wonderfully fun historical Australian epic.
- Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan (My favourite Australian book, and one that touched me powerfully. I can’t wait to read her newest novel!)
- My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin (An Australian classic that also focuses on life in the bush.)
- Remembering Babylon by David Malouf (Another incredibly well-written historical Australian novel that tackles the relationship between white settlers & Aborigines. Malouf’s style isn’t as accessible as Grenville’s, though.)