Secret River By Kate Grenville
We know Kate Grenville for her delightful first novel, the Idea of Perfection, the winner of the Orange Prize for fiction in 2001. It is a tale of love–found in a tiny, remote village in Australia–and of the fate of an historic bridge and the history of a quilt. Brave book
Kate Grenville dedicates her new novel, Secret River, to the Aboriginal people of Australia: past, present and future.
It is a brave book, I think, with its depiction of the conflict in the early days of Australian settlement by the British, and I wonder how it will be received in Australia.
It is the story of the character William Thornhill, born into poverty in London in the late 1800s. The poverty is unrelenting and thievery is part of the way of life for the starving, working poor on the Thames River.
His for the taking
William is caught and sentenced to death–and then a reprieve, he is banished to Australia. There he is able to earn his freedom and attempt to make a life for himself, his wife, and their growing family. Will knows that it is land that makes a man free, and the land can be his if he takes it.
Of course, it is the land of the Aboriginal people, but they have little ability to keep it from being settled by the ever-increasing numbers of white settlers.
Britain wants this land settled and encourages the settlers to use whatever means possible to secure the land for the British Empire.
It is a love story, the story of Will and his wife Sal, and their efforts to make the lives of their children a very different one from the life they would have had in the slums of London–if they had lived at all.
It is also the story of the beginning of the destruction of the world of the Aboriginal people of New South Wales–the tragedy of the conflict with the white settlers. It is a brutal and disturbing conflict, and one that was repeated throughout the world as the original inhabitants of the then remote continents were confronted by European exploration.
It is a novel to enjoy reading and to think about the history of another country, in so many ways similar to our own.