Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville
Kate Grenville is a well-established Australian writer with seven previous novels, The Idea of Perfection, The Secret River, and The Lieutenant being the most well known. Her most recent novel, Sarah Thornhill, continues a story that began in The Secret River, as we meet the generation of the children born to the first settlers in Australia. We were introduced to William Thornhill in The Secret River a few years ago, and here we meet him again as a much older man, now well established and successful. This time we also meet his daughter, Sarah, a young woman coming of age in what is still very much the early days of Australian settlement.
Sarah, as a young woman of the first generation to be born in Australia, has no connection to England - Australia is her only home. The generation who first came from England is divided between those who came as convicts, and earned their freedom and fought hard for their success, and those who came as immigrants by their own choice – there is still a deep divide between the two in the eyes of “society”. William Thornhill, therefore, seeks a marriage for his daughter that will elevate her position. Sarah, however, falls in love with a man who is ultimately unacceptable, and the result is heartbreak, followed by marriage to a man who is not her choice, but who will remove her from her father’s home which has become a place she must escape.
We follow Sarah and her husband into the wilderness of the Australian outback, to a home remote from any others, and we return to the same questions, of the conflict and interaction between the white settlers and the aboriginal people of Australia, that were raised in both The Secret River and The Lieutenant.
Kate Grenville working with five generations of family stories has woven them into her fiction, using the story of her grandfather, a boatman caught stealing lumber on the Thames as the inspiration for William Thornhill. Another ancestor was a sealer in New Zealand and you will read some of his story in Sarah Thornhill. When Kate Grenville traveled to the Hawkesbury River to research this novel she says she “ “retraced the road my great-great-grandmother would have taken with her new husband, north to the Hunter Valley. As near as I could, I found where they’d lived – nothing remains of it but a graveyard called “Glenmire”.” What will remain, forever, as her memorial is the novel Sarah Thornhill.