Read The Secret River by Kate Grenville Online


The Orange Prize-winning author Kate Grenville recalls her family's history in an astounding novel about the pioneers of New South Wales. Already a best seller in Australia, The Secret River is the story of Grenville's ancestors, who wrested a new life from the alien terrain of Australia and its native people. London, 1806. William Thornhill, a Thames bargeman, is deportedThe Orange Prize-winning author Kate Grenville recalls her family's history in an astounding novel about the pioneers of New South Wales. Already a best seller in Australia, The Secret River is the story of Grenville's ancestors, who wrested a new life from the alien terrain of Australia and its native people. London, 1806. William Thornhill, a Thames bargeman, is deported to the New South Wales colony in what would become Australia. In this new world of convicts and charlatans, Thornhill tries to pull his family into a position of power and comfort. When he rounds a bend in the Hawkesbury River and sees a gentle slope of land, he becomes determined to make the place his own. But, as uninhabited as the island appears, Australia is full of native people, and they do not take kindly to Thornhill's theft of their home.The Secret River is the tale of Thornhill's deep love for his small corner of the new world, and his slow realization that if he wants to settle there, he must ally himself with the most despicable of the white settlers, and to keep his family safe, he must permit terrifying cruelty to come to innocent people....

Title : The Secret River
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ISBN : 9781921520341
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 334 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Secret River Reviews

  • Kim
    2019-02-10 00:28

    I am an Australian of Anglo-Celtic and Northern European background, meaning that my ancestry is English, Cornish, Irish, German and Danish, with a bit of Scottish thrown in for good measure. I was born in Sydney, where I still live. More than five generations of my ancestors on both sides were born in Australia. This takes my roots in the country back to the early 19th century, which in white Australian terms is a long time. One of my ancestors was a convict transported from Ireland because he committed a petty theft. There's every chance that I have more than one convict ancestor. My ancestors were not wealthy people. They have been farmers and shopkeepers and salespeople and musicians and housepainters. My family history attaches me to this place. It is in my blood. Even though I am resolutely urban in my background and my preferences - both my parents, all of my grandparents and most of my great-grandparents were born within the ten kilometres or so which separates the centre of Sydney and the beaches in its eastern suburbs - I am attached to the Australian landscape. The high, bright blue sky, the beaches and the rivers, the scent of gum trees and native flowers and the sound of native birds are all part of me. As much as I love travelling and as much as I can appreciate other, softer landscapes, the one which surrounds me is the one which moves me the most. For all of these reasons, this is a novel which speaks to me. It probably should be compulsory reading for all Australians and certainly for all Australians whose ancestors arrived in colonial times. This is their story and it is in many respects an ugly one. The central character, William Thornhill, is a boatman on the Thames, who lives in grinding poverty with his wife and child. In 1806, having been convicted of a theft committed to feed his family, Thornhill's death sentence is commuted to transportation to the penal colony of New South Wales. Over time, Thornhill achieves the status of an emancipated convict and settles on a stretch of land on the Hawkesbury River. In this environment, he, his family and other white settlers come into contact with the local indigenous inhabitants. The indigenous people have no reason to leave the area just because settlers move in, planting crops and building huts and fences. However, the fences cut off their food sources and this makes conflict inevitable. Ultimately, Thornhill has to decide what he is prepared to do to keep the land which has become his obsession. Fundamentally, the novel is about the Australian colonial experience. The title has two meanings. To Thornhill, the Hawkesbury River is a "secret river" because its entrance from the bay into which it feeds is hard to find. However, it's also a reference to the phrase used by anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner in a lecture in 1968 when he described the brutal acts of genocide against the indigenous people by British colonisers and the subsequent silence about these events, as "the secret river of blood in Australian history". The narrative describes some horrific events. It also suggests that these events occurred not because evil people wanted to commit unspeakable acts, but because of a total lack of understanding between the white and the indigenous communities. These were groups of people not simply separated by language, but by their entire way of life. The indigenous people had no concept of private ownership and did not build fences. From the point of view of the settlers, this meant that the indigenous people had no relationship with the land. Nothing could be further from the truth and the colonisation of this land meant the dispossession of the original inhabitants. The effects of this dispossession reverberate more than 200 years later. Grenville creates a strong sense of time and place. While the narrative is exclusively from Thornhill's point of view, she allows the reader to understand how the conflict affected both sides. Just as the indigenous people had nowhere to go when their land was taken away from them, poor settlers (in the early days most of them, like Thornhill, were emancipated convicts) also had nowhere to go. They could not return to England and they had to make the best of what they had here. For them, making a living from the land was an economic imperative, a matter of life and death for themselves and their families. But rather than learn about the land from those who already lived there - and who would have been prepared to share it - they imposed their ways, with devastating consequences. A few days after finishing the novel, I am still haunted by it. I can understand that the narrative will not have the same affect on those who are not connected to the history it tells. But I feel part of that history and Grenville's work really speaks to me. I almost took away a star because of a phrase which was so frequently used that it started to irritate me, but that impulse subsided after I finished reading. My lasting impression will be of the atmosphere Grenville created and the insight and sensitivity she demonstrated in telling the story. I decided to read the novel now in anticipation of seeing this theatrical adaptation of the novel next month. The play has been adapted from the novel by one of my favourite playwrights and will be directed by one of my favourite directors. I'm looking forward to seeing it more than ever.

  • Rod
    2019-02-01 01:35

    Yes, this book is admirably researched and yes, the basic premise is interesting. But no, it is not particularly absorbing and no, it is not well written. I have a particular bias against writers that spend an inordinate amount of time on painstaking (read painful) descriptions of setting. The novel is 334 pages long - about 80 per cent of that is taken up with environmental minutiae (or at least it felt like it). Pages and pages of it - then perhaps a couple of lines of dialogue, hidden away in italics as if it were something to be ashamed of. The characters mumble their way through the book, and no-one has anything of significant interest to say. As a protagonist, Will Thornhill is the biggest 'dumb-arse' I've ever had the misfortune to come across. Sure, Grenville is probably being ruthlessly true to historical fact - colonial Australia was populated by simple-minded petty criminals and their ignorance in this exotic setting is not far-fetched. But that doesn't necessarily make for great fiction and what was needed here was for the main character, at least, to leap-frog this cultural intertia and actually LEARN something. The ham-fisted Thornhill lacks any developent whatsoever - he has no real insight and experiences no epiphany. By the end of the book, Grenville purports him to be a wealthy landowner, whilst I would have probably placed him into a sheltered workshop. But I did at least empathise on one point. As I laboured towards the closing pages, I also was more than ready for my Ticket of Leave.

  • Trish
    2019-01-27 03:16

    For years I’d wanted to have a go at this, and when Grenville was again nominated for an Australian Prime Minister’s Award for the third book in the trilogy (Sarah Thornhill) of which this novel is the first, I finally decided to begin at the beginning. This novel was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2006, and won numerous other awards when it came out, for good reason. It is old-time storytelling, whose characters who begin life poor and grubby on the streets of London early in the nineteenth century, get “sent down” to Australia in a convict ship, earn their freedom, and scratch out an existence in that unholy land.Grenville’s descriptions of early nineteenth century London evoke a world crammed with humanity living cheek-by-jowl on crooked cobbled streets, cold and grimy with coal dust. Grenville contrasts this with the dry heat of Australia, blazing with sun, and the wide open, unsettled (and unsettling) bigness of it. The Australian Aborigine is caught to perfection in her words…the thinness, the looseness of limbs, the blackness, the brows, the teeth, the joy, the dignity and fierceness. Her language is Dickensian, her story that of Australia.Parts of this book are difficult to read, they seem so cruel. That man is a fearful and fearsome creature, we know. It is just painful to see ourselves through that glass so darkly reflected. I can hardly recommend this title enough. I have loved the writing of Kate Grenville forever, it seems. She has the potential for greatness, and while some of her books may not quite reach that level, this one does. I listened to this book on Blackstone Audio, narrated by the excellent Simon Vance.For those who come away from this book with that breathless sense of needing to know how she did that, she has written a memoir about writing the novel called Searching For The Secret River: A Writing Memoir. I believe it took her as long to come down from writing it as it will take us to absorb it. I look forward to enjoying her skills again.

  • Margitte
    2019-02-18 05:11

    The blurb:After a childhood of poverty and petty crime in London's slums, William Thornhill is transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. But freedom can be bought, and when Thornhill claims a patch of land by the Hawkesbury River, the battle lines between the old and new inhabitants are drawn.Quite a sterile introduction to an otherwise intense, passionate, and gripping tale of the earliest European settlers in Australia.A haunting, captivating, atmospheric, well-written saga of two worlds colliding in an uncompromising wilderness around the Hawkerville river near Perth, Australia. The atmosphere was intense, from the first part in the London slums where misery was a given at birth, to the harsh reality of being dumped as convicts on the shores of Australia.What a life's journey it has been! Historical fiction in which a part of history is told with a colorful cast of characters populating a story of suffering, endurance, persistence, cruelty, and survival. In the end there was happiness of some sorts, given the circumstances and effort it took to reach that point where the final period could be added to the end of the book.

  • Debra
    2019-02-15 01:35

    This is a type of book, where the more I think about it, the more I like it. William Thornhill grew up poor in England. His parents died when he was young leaving him to are for his younger siblings. He takes a job as an apprentice with his childhood friend, Sal's parents. He has always liked Sal and as he learns a trade and sleeps under the same roof with her he falls in love with her. At the end of his apprenticeship he and Sal marry. Her parents also pass away. Tragedy seems to follow them. With an infant and wife to care for, he begins a job and learns he does not make enough to care for everyone and steals some wood. He is sentenced to the penal colony of New South Wales. His wife and son go with him to Australia. When they dock, he sees his newborn son as his wife has given birth while on the voyage (they travel on different parts on the ship as he is a prisoner and she is not).After they arrive in Syndey they find a way to make it 50 miles north and William claims 100 acres as his. Sal does not like this new land, she is uncomfortable but promises her husband she will give it 5 years. During this time more children are born and Sal deals with loneliness and the hope that she will return home in 5 years time.In the every beginning of the Novel, William awakens to find a man standing in his hut - naked holding a spear. The man tells him "Be off". I liked the entire passage's description. I think it does a great job of showing how both the Aborigines and the colonists feel about each other. The Aborigines have always lived in that area, it was theirs, their children's. It is their home. Then comes in Colonists who proudly proclaim the land as theirs. Atrocities occur on both sides. Aborigines are mistreated. Colonists get speared.Sal and William hear the stories. They have contact with the Aborigines. Sal makes a trade with the women, her bonnet for their crude bowls. The Thornhills believe that they can live on this land without incident. They do not want to treat the native people as other colonist have done so. They refuse to take actions against them as their peers have done. They do not know what to make of the naked people. I like how William thought that the Aborigines in their nakedness and their way of life are more free than he has ever been in his life. This book also delves into what do good people do to protect what is theirs? Even though we hear Williams voice, I feel the Author did a good job showing us the plight of the Aborigine. It would have been nice to have more of that voice told; however. At what point does a good man, make the decision to act against his morals and values? By the end of the book, William is faced with that question. He wants to be successful in his life and to care for his family. Both sides feel entitled to the land. Neither side has anywhere else left to go. By the end of the book, this issue of land ownership comes to a head. The book began as a romance between William and Sal and ended with a struggle of survival.This is book has some disturbing scenes _ people poisoned by the "green powder", a woman kept as a sex slave, physical attacks, etc.See more of my reviews at

  • Peter
    2019-01-26 02:28

    The Secret River explores human instinct on a level that is visceral, honest... and depressing. Or perhaps it is just Western instinct, rather than human instinct--and that is even more depressing.The novel tracks a family of Brits at the turn of the 19th century as the family is deported to Australia for crimes committed by William Thornhill, husband and father, and as it engages the challenges of the wilderness. At its core, The Secret River is the story of the family's interactions with the aborigines--interactions both peaceful and confrontational--and the conflict between, on one side, the family's desire to establish a settlement of their own and on the other side, the relationship already shared between the aborigines and the land.The theme that guides this conflict is how different people provide for themselves and for their families, and the novel gradually reveals two central models for doing so. The first is the growing fetish for materialism, isolation, and ownership among most of the British settlers. And the second is the communal, minimalist existence of the Aborigines.Naturally, the efficient and simple existence of the "blacks"--as they are often called in the novel--reveals the moral turpitude of the settlers. We (of European descent) are embarrassed by the (male) settlers who show little ability to reason, empathize, cooperate, and/or communicate. Most of the British characters are dumb or ineffective; they victimize others and act selfishly and violently. Their actions are formulaic and predictable, right up to the end.But here's the rub. At every step there's a sense that their brute actions are inevitable and that the result--if we search our baser instincts, however "morally" repulsive and inhumane the means may be--is desirable. The driving away of the aborigines for the sake of establishing a safe homestead feels like the inexorable march of the West. It feels safe. It feels alpha.The novel reveals the inherent ugliness of this instinct.I was frustrated by the idiotic behavior of many characters' actions, and then I felt resigned to the inevitability of the past two centuries of history. It's a sad, sad tale of Western expansion and waste. And the romance between William and Sal, his wife, unfortunately does little to assuage the ill feelings. It felt cold, rather than heroic.Yet, there's something real in this book; it taps into a visceral and unspoken impulse, something too ugly and complicated to address casually. That makes The Secret River valuable, even if it is not always pleasurable.Do I recommend it? Sure. Loosely. It's interesting cultural history.Would I teach it? Mmm... As a summer reading selection, but not chapter by chapter.Lasting impression: Transparent, brutal men; clever women; inevitable march of the West; failure of humanity.

  • Sharon
    2019-02-18 06:31

    From a young age William Thornhill knew what it was like to live rough and go with out and to feel hungry all the time. Living with his family in the slums of London along the Thames River he is forced to steal as a means of survival. He is only thirteen when his parents die which is when things start looking increasingly grim. William gets friendly with one of his sisters friends, Sarah (Sal) Middleton who is an only child. She may not have been the prettiest girl, but William thinks things look a whole brighter when she is around.Not long after Williams parents died Mr Middleton takes William on as an apprentice where he'll learn to be a waterman and at the end of his seven year apprenticeship he'll be a freeman of the Thames River. Having a great love for the river and not being afraid of hard work, William is in his element and it seems life has taken a turn for the better. William also knows that once he has a trade behind him he'll be able to marry Sal and settle down and start a family of their own.Seven years on and everything is going just the way William had hoped it would. He married Sal and they have their first child William (Willie). They couldn't be happier until one day when William is caught stealing wood and from here their lives will start to go down hill very quickly. William is thrown into The Old Bailey where he is sentenced to hang. Sal does all she can to stop this from happening. Eventually he is granted a pardon for his crime on the condition he be transported to the Eastern part of New South Wales for the term of his sentence.In 1806 William arrives in Sydney Cove where he will serve his sentence with his wife and growing family. William is determined that one day he'll own a piece of land, build a house and provide for his wife and children. This won't be so easy as he struggles with the aboriginal people for ownership of the land.This is a brilliantly written piece of historical fiction which I believe every Australian should read. I found this book to be a very interesting and engaging story as well as a very powerful read. Highly recommended.

  • Jenny
    2019-01-25 01:15

    The Secret River is a historical story about William Thornhill who was convicted of a crime in England and sentenced to death. However, William Thornhill wrote a letter saying how sorry he was for committing this offence and it was converted to transportation to Australia for his natural life. Readers of The Secret River will continue to follow the twist and turns to see what happens to William and Sarah Thornhill. The Secret River is the first book I have read of Kate Grenville, and I enjoyed it. I love the way Kate Grenville portray her characters. Kate Grenville did a great job in describing the life of her two main characters in England and Australia that engaged the readers of The Secret River and to transported them back in time. I also like the way Kate Grenville describes the interaction of the people along the river and the Aboriginal People. However, I did cry reading The Secret River especially the part about the massacre of the Aboriginal Community.Readers of The Secret River will learn about the life of people in London during the 18th century. Also, readers of The Secret River will learn about transportation to Australian and live of the convicts on arrival in Australia. Reading The Secret River, you will learn about the white settlement in Sydney and along the Hawkesbury River. The Secret River also highlights that you should value all your children and not wait until it too late.I recommend this book!

  • ☼♄Jülie 
    2019-02-03 04:14

    I was given the box set of these three books for Christmas a few years back and though I liked the writing very much...they are not very big books...I thought there was room for a bit more in-depth story about the Thornhills as a family and as individuals. I felt they were ultimately portrayed in a more villainous light than they actually appeared to be. Given the circumstances I believe it would have been an equally frightening experience for all concerned and that they (the Thornhills and the Indigenous people) through their ignorance of each others' cultures, were all victims of circumstances beyond their full comprehension, and that the 'real' villains had cast them all in such a very bad light. This led to the domino effect that was to become a cataclysm of everlasting effect.Very confronting and thought provoking given that they are based on true accounts of our early settlers to Sydney and environs. As a 5th generation Australian and Family Historian, I am always deeply and emotionally affected in ways I can't describe when reading of the many and varied struggles, challenges and confrontations of those early times ....I for one am truly Sorry that it was that way....I wish it could have been different. I applaud Kate Grenville and others like her for finally getting these important stories about our history out into the open, warts and all. I look forward to seeing more of them come to life. My only hope is that a balanced perspective will always prevail, lest we unwittingly perpetuate a culture of blame and shame.Recently I had the very great pleasure of seeing the stage play of Kate Grenville's "The Secret River" in a Sydney Theatre...Wonderful cast, wonderful production and hauntingly beautiful music...***** stars. .

  • G.G.
    2019-01-26 05:35

    There is much that is good about Kate Grenville’s novel, but what impressed me most is her ability to get so deeply inside a character that she can show what the world looks like through his eyes. (Forgive the “he”: Grenville’s central character in this novel is a man.) Here is William Thornhill, Thames River lighterman: After a time the mud-choked water and the ships it carried, thick on its back like fleas on a dog, became nothing more than a big room of which every corner was known. He came to love that wide pale light around him out on the river, the falling away of insignificant things in the face of the great radiance of the sky. He would rest on the oars at Hungerford Reach, where the tide could be relied on to sweep him around, and stare along the water at the way the light wrapped itself around every object. (p.34) Here he is in 1806, transported to the colony of New South Wales “during the term of his Natural Life” (p.74), bewildered by the strangeness of the environment: Instead of dropping their leaves [eucalyptus trees] cast off their bark so it dangled among the branches like dirty rags. In every direction that the eye travelled from the settlement all it could see were the immense bulges and distances of that grey-green forest. There was something about its tangle that seemed to make the eye blind, searching for pattern and finding none. It was exhausting to look at: different everywhere and yet everywhere the same. (p.91) And here is Grenville’s description of how Thornhill perceived the Aboriginal people of Australia: There were no signs that the blacks felt the place belonged to them. They had no fences that said, this is mine. No house that said, this is our home. There were no fields or flocks that said, we have put the labour of our hands into this place. (p.96) The minute we read this we see his terrible error.Once Thornhill is freed and moves with his family to a piece of land up the Hawkesbury River to grow corn and raise hogs, the stage is set for a confrontation that we know will be violent. At this point I found the tension unbearable and—so as to be able to sleep at night--had to put the book down and read something else (Robert Dessaix’s wonderful A Mother's Disgrace).We all know that white settlers in Australia committed atrocities of all sorts as they wrested the land from its Aboriginal inhabitants; Grenville successfully uses fiction to show why that happened: how people who arrived with nothing were corrupted by the possibility the colony offered to have something.Grenville’s novel offers much more than this, of course: I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  • Carolyn
    2019-02-17 01:13

    This book already feels like such a classic to me even though it was published only 11 years ago. I have already seen the play and TV series based on it and now finally in reading the book, the story seems an even more powerful one of the cultural clash that happened all over Australia with the coming of the white man to this ancient continent and culture. Kate Grenville is a very accomplished author and the tells this story of the ignorance and arrogance of the colonialists in invading the land of the traditional owners in simple powerful language. The book is beautifully written and the characters strongly depicted. Destined to be a classic that all Australians must read.

  • RitaSkeeter
    2019-02-20 23:11

    This is one of those books I've meant to read for a long time,but never felt a strong urge until I saw the recent mini-series on TV. Sadly for me, it must have created an urge for just about everyone else to read the book as well so I had a couple of months waiting impatiently for a library copy. I can't imagine how difficult life was for my early ancestors.Transported to new colony that very little was known about, and finding things all upside down. The seasons were different, the wildlife was unlike anything they could imagine, even the flora was different (as we see in Sal's yearning for green, deciduous trees). This was a rough start colony. But another thing was different too.This was a land where anyone could make their fortune, regardless of how they arrived in the colony.It was an opportunity many grasped as they made new lives for themselves. There is a strong pride in Australia for our European roots and for our convict heritage.Kate Grenville's book is concerned with this. Through convict Will Thornhill, his family, and other settlers, we see the differing attitudes of Euopeans to the Aboriginal people. From Thomas Blackwood who utters;Ain't nothing in this world just for the taking... A man got to pay a fair price for taking... Matter of give a little, take a little. It's the only way.To Smasher Sulliver whose view was;Sterminate them... No one going to come straight out and say it but ain't it the only way?Will's family provides a microcosm for how the Aboriginals were viewed. From Will, who is driven to succeed and then to protect what he sees as rightfully his, no matter the cost to the Aboriginals. To Sal, who is fearful, but attempts some interactions with those she comes across. To Dick, a child. Children will play with any child because they have not yet been taught that skin colour matters. So the story moves toward the shocking, distressing, and inevitable ending.When I saw the mini-series I had to turn the TV off, so distressing were these scenes. The last 50 pages of this book are the same. Very difficult to read, and they a sense of shame for what our ancestors did. Winners write the history.That's why January 26 is still celebrated and called Australia Day. Grenville gives the other side a voice in this book. She isn't didactic; in fact she shows very well the conditions European arrivals were confronted with and how the conditions supported the tensions between Aboriginals and Europeans. The takeaway from this book is to consider the other side of our history. The side we don't like to talk about. The side we need to talk about. Our national shame. I am sorry. We are sorry.

  • Brenda
    2019-01-23 07:28

    When William Thornhill was a child in the slums of London, his family was incredibly poor…stealing just to survive. His sister Lizzie’s friend lived in Swan Lane, and she became like a sister to William. Sal Middleton became central in William’s life, and when his parents died, first his Mum, then his Dad soon afterwards, and left him and his siblings orphaned, he was able to spend time with Sal, in the warmth of her home, within the love of her parents.Mr Middleton took William on as an apprentice the year he turned fourteen, and he began learning to be a waterman... he loved the river, and was never afraid of hard work, and was looking forward to the end of the seven year apprenticeship, when he’d be a freeman of the River Thames. He would marry Sal and their future would be secure.After their marriage, seven years later, they couldn’t have been happier. And when Sal presented him with their first child, William, or Willie as he was known, life took on a rosy hue. But suddenly, their world came crashing down around them, and William began thieving again, just to keep their heads above water.When he was caught, thrown into The Old Bailey, and then sentenced to hang, it seemed there was no hope. But Sal wouldn’t give up……..On a bitterly cold morning in September, 1806, William arrived in Sydney Cove aboard the Alexander, after almost a year at sea. He was ‘given’ to his wife, Sal, who was to be his master, as she was free, and he had to serve for the term of his natural life. Sal had had their second child on the voyage, named Richard, known as Dick, and he was a fretful child. The journey of William Thornhill, his wife Sal and their children is a brilliant one. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the continuing history of their lives, first in Sydney, then on the Hawkesbury as a free man, with the Aboriginals already living on the river, the skirmishes with the ‘savages’, the language barrier, the beautiful but wildly untamed land … I would highly recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read it as yet!

  • Phrynne
    2019-02-18 04:21

    Having read a lot of five star reviews for this book I was hoping for something great but for me it turned out just ordinary. I really feel I have read this same kind of story so many times and some of them were better told than this one. It was a fairly short book and the story moved along well. Kate Grenville is like Bryce Courtney in that she seems to revel in the dirt and grime of that age and she was very into describing the atrocities committed between the settlers and the indigenous people. I had to skim over some of that. So not a bad book but not amongst the best I have read either.

  • Judi Anne
    2019-02-15 07:36

    There is no way to sugar-coat the shocking adventures of this novel. The hardship and horror of the Australian released prisoners trying to make a life for themselves and the Aborigines who want to keep their land will take your breath away. It is moving, emotional and also a distressful look at a slice of Australian history. In late 1700s England, William Thornhill’s family slowly slide into a bleak life of destitution causing him to steal food to keep his family from starving. He is caught and sentenced to hang but is spared at the last minute. He and his family are sent, by the English courts, to prison life in New South Wales, Australia. When his time is served he is released into the wilds of the land to make a life for himself, his wife and his small child. They do fairly well in the Sydney settlement, however, much to his wife’s dismay, William has bigger dreams. He wants to venture out and own his own piece of land up the Hawkesbury River. As he gets his farm started he faces a larger challenge. The natives of the land want to see him gone and they set out to make that happen!This is an extremely emotional story based on the true history of the confrontations between the whites and the blacks during a time when both sides had to fight for the land. I really like Kate Grenville’s straight forward and descriptive way of telling this expressive slice of history. This is the first book in a series of three and I definitely plan to read the next two soon!

  • PattyMacDotComma
    2019-02-01 04:35

    More special than I expected. I have always liked Kate Grenville's writing, but this book struck a chord with me because I'm familiar with the Hawkesbury area where the Australian part of the story takes place. It is also particularly apt because our Prime Minister just said today that "I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled, or, um, scarcely settled, Great South Land." His "scarcely settled" comment seems to have been an afterthought . . . but too late.That's what the English probably thought, since they considered the inhabitants as wildlife. They did not recognise a civilisation of any kind, and our PM, who is also the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, is several generations behind the eight-ball.Grenville's portrayal of the cold, grubby, bleak life her characters led in London is enough to make you itchy with discomfort. The same is true of her clear description of the hard, hard Great South Land and the sparkling beauty of the River and the not-to-be-denied urge of William for his own piece of land, and then more and then more.Really looking forward to reading the next one, as I see this is the first of a trilogy.

  • Teddy
    2019-01-28 00:35

    It was my pleasure to review this excellent book for Harper Collins Canada. Here's what I said:The Secret River by Kate Grenville is historical fiction at it’s finest. It starts off as a quiet pondering story of the toils in poverty-stricken 19th century England where most must resort to stealing to survive. Here Grenville focused on her central character, William Thornhill who got caught thieving to feed his family. He was sentenced to death, however that was commuted to life in New South Wales.The story then turns to the survival of the Thornhill family in a new world, with a harsh hot climate and struggles with it’s original inhabitants, the aboriginals.Grenville writes in a quite meditative style until the Thornhills encounter the aboriginals. Then she breaks out as she shows the brutal price that must be paid by both the new inhabitants and aboriginals of New South Wales. The Secret River is a very satisfying read that will make you hungry to read more by Kate Grenville!

  • Cherie
    2019-01-23 00:26

    What a contrast in stories from my last read! This book was a great story from the first moment to the last. I listened to this book via Blackstone Audio, narrated by Simon Vance. The story begins early in 1800 and follows the life of Will Thornton from London to Sydney, Australia. He and his family are sent to live there. He goes because he was caught stealing. His wife and baby went because they had no where else to go and no one to support them. It is a very complete story with great characters and action. What an eye-opening look at how the British penal system worked and transported prisoners and their families to Australia. What I really wanted to know about were the conditions between the Aborigines and the white settlers and I wasn't disappointed. The blacks - as the white farmers call them were mostly viewed as pests and no accounts. Nothing they did made any sense to the whites. They did not work, went around mostly naked and played and slept most of the time. They took things and ignored the white people who tried to talk to them. They came and went when they wanted and mostly refused any food that the whites tried to give them. In the end, sadly, they were massacred. They had gotten tired of the whites taking their women, indiscriminate killing and destroying their food sources. They tried to rebel against the settlers - always a bad thing...I loved the relationship between Will and his wife Sal. It was a love story from the very beginning. He was not always a very nice person, but he was a much better man than some of the other characters in the story. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  • Rusalka
    2019-02-11 04:27

    This book kicked me. I was sitting there thinking about the human condition, and why we are such scared arseholes, and a baby chicken jumps up next to me, snuggles down and wraps her head around into my lap. Some times we aren't I guess. Some times chickens, who are a bit naive, love you to bits. So I think this book should be sold/lent/issued with a chicken. So you have something fluffy to love you while you read it.That being said, the book was great. It was a book that tells you the story of William Thornhill, who was born into extreme poverty in London. He turns to being a thief but is given a chance at life by being taken on as a waterman's (boatman's) apprentice on the Thames. He marries the girl he loves, and everything is going well. Until it is not. Like so many people in the 1800s. He is caught thieving again, sentenced to death but reprieved by being sent to the colony of New South Wales.I feel like I have spoiled half the book for you. But THIS is where the book begins. This book tells the story of so many men and women that came out to Australia in the 1800s. They were shipped from the biggest city in the world to the most remote place on earth. And they survived, and prospered. As a great, great, great granddaughter of one of them, that's astounding, and I'm glad they did.What is the thing that makes me emotional though, is not that part. It's what white Australians did to survive. That's the thing that kicks me in the guts. That's the thing, as an Australian that I know is creeping up on me from every crevice of this book. I understand. I understand the terror. The fear of the unknown. The fear for your family. But it does not excuse at all the horror we unleashed again, and again, and again, and still again even now.There is still a division in our country. We should be better. We are slightly, but not at all enough. The right calls this a guilt agenda. I do not feel guilty for what my convict ancestor did or didn't do in 1820 or so as he didn't know better. I feel guilty as educated people in 201...4 we are doing terrible things still.This book was brilliant and humbling. And if you don't know much about the very first settlers to Australia from Britain, it's not a bad way to learn.For more reviews visit

  • Connie
    2019-02-13 03:22

    This award winning novel by Kate Grenville tells the story of the settlement of the New South Wales colony which becomes Australia. William Thornhill, a boatman in London in 1806, gets convicted of robbery. He and his family are deported to New South Wales. The author writes wonderful descriptions of the colony, the new settlers and the native Aborigines, and the conflicts over the land. She has created characters that come so alive on the page that they are hard to leave at the end of the book.

  • Angela M
    2019-02-02 23:37

    I was moved and appalled and educated by this book .

  • Ron Charles
    2019-02-20 04:31

    The most remarkable quality of Kate Grenville's new novel is the way it conveys the enormous tragedy of Australia's founding through the moral compromises of a single ordinary man. "The Secret River" reminds us that national history may be recorded as a succession of larger-than-life leaders and battles, but in fact a country arises from the accretion of personal dreams, private sacrifices and, often, hidden acts of cruelty.The special power of this novel took me off guard because several years ago Grenville wrote one of my favorite romantic comedies, "The Idea of Perfection," which won the Orange Prize. Now she's earned the Commonwealth Prize for The Secret River, and though it betrays none of her comic zest, that's just a testament to her range. In this tragic story of colonization, everyone suffers. The aborigines, of course, are decimated. But what's harder to show is the strangling of conscience in those who triumph. That aspect allows "The Secret River" to speak to our country as clearly and profoundly as it speaks to hers.The novel opens in late 18th-century London. Young William Thornhill has a cruel sense of how common he is in the vast machinery of the city that chews up his parents and leaves him an orphan. But he's exceptionally strong and determined; he gets an apprenticeship as a waterman (rowing a kind of river-taxi), falls in love with a good woman and begins to imagine that his life won't be a wretched struggle after all.Grenville knows just how to build this meager prosperity so that we can't help but swell with hope for William's future even as threats mount. Through a series of small, frighteningly plausible misfortunes, William and his wife, Sal, lose everything and turn to theft to survive. Soon after that, just as inevitably, William is arrested and sentenced to death. But Sal, unwilling to accept early widowhood, works the legal system as best she can and gets William and his family exiled to the penal colony of New South Wales.This lengthy introduction -- besides being harrowing and tremendously entertaining -- sets the foundation for the main story about the early settlement of the land Down Under by Britain's criminal refuse. When the Thornhills are finally dumped in Sydney, after a nine-month voyage in dark, separate quarters, they have nothing to call their own. But once again, their industrious natures pay off, and they slowly begin to attain some stability, so much so that William lays claim to 100 acres up the river. Sal agrees to give it a try for five years, but she marks the weeks off one by one on the trunk of a tree, a typically insightful detail about the way conflicting aspirations can develop between a loving husband and wife, "a space of silence" that comes between them "like a body of water."The problem, of course, is that this is not empty land. There are aborigines living here, even if their way of life makes it difficult for William to understand their sense of belonging. Most of his white neighbors are ignorant, violent men who treat the aborigines as sex slaves or vermin, but William is too decent and too afraid to strike out at them in the recommended ways. Still, after so many years at the bottom of the social scale, he's quickly intoxicated by the idea of being superior.One of the most haunting aspects of this novel is Grenville's portrayal of the aborigines, who appear here as William sees them: alien and intimidating. They move too quietly, too smoothly. They're naked with no sense of self-consciousness. They fade in and out of the forest unseen, and yet they don't seem to notice him unless they want to. In the most unnerving moment, William realizes that these apparently primitive people live in a state of leisure that he's never felt -- despite his constant labor. "They were like gentry," he thinks. "They spent a little time each day on their business, but the rest was their own to enjoy. The difference was that in their universe there was no call for another class of folk who stood waiting up to their thighs in river-water for them to finish their chat so they could be taken to their play or their ladyfriend. In the world of these naked savages, it seemed everyone was gentry."Every new progression of William's prosperity brings him closer to open conflict with these people. As the tension builds, he and his wife realize that their "hut had become a compressed cube of fear." All around them swirl stories of atrocities committed by the aborigines and the settlers. William and Sal pretend they can ignore these troubles, but in a devastating finale, William must finally choose between his long cherished dream of success and his sense of himself as a decent human being. Grenville's powerful telling of this story is so moving, so exciting, that you're barely aware of how heavy and profound its meaning is until you reach the end in a moment of stunned sadness.

  • Judy
    2019-02-16 00:26

    There is a trend happening among some of the bloggers and Goodreads friends I follow involving either reading books one already owns from our groaning shelves and/or getting around to books on our TBR lists. On New Year's Day as I was considering my reading plans for 2018, I created a combination of both. I went back through 12 years of my TBR lists and selected one book from each of those years, 2006-2017. From these 12 books, some of which I already own, I made a list, one to be read in each month of 2018. How geeky is that?From my 2006 list I chose The Secret River for January. I have always wanted to read it since I first saw a review. I also particularly love Australian authors and have now found in Kate Grenville a new one to love.The Secret River is historical fiction set in the years when Great Britain began shipping off their criminals to New South Wales, a land recently discovered by the famous explorer James Cook. Makes sense right? Why build more prisons when you can get good cheap slave labor to build up a new colony? William Thornhill in 1806, a dirt poor illiterate bargeman on the River Thames, shoring up his meager income with petty crimes, is finally caught. His sentence could have been hanging but instead he is deported to New South Wales and takes his new spunky, literate wife Sal with him.Once in their new city, Sydney, they begin the long and challenging climb from convict to pioneer. Sal has babies, works hard and smart to increase their fortunes, but is never reconciled to staying. Her dream is to take their new found riches back to London.William becomes a boatman on the Hawkesbury River and finds a lust for having his own land. Eventually he gets it and a host of new troubles. The indigenous peoples have no concept of private property. While they are not innately hostile, the settlers manage to arouse their anger. As you can imagine, or may have read about, it gets ugly.William Thornhill is one of the last to agree with violence as a solution but eventually has no choice if he wishes to realize his dream. So this is a cautionary tale about the necessary evils inherent in dreams.The novel was a complete page turner, written with a sure hand, propulsive story telling and fully fleshed out characters. I want to read both sequels and also was inspired to learn more about Captain Cook, who it seems unwittingly opened up the world to the colonial ambitions of the British Empire.

  • Kendra
    2019-01-31 01:24

    William Thornhill is the poorest of the poor in early 1800's London. He manages to barely survive his childhood only to continue the struggle into adulthood. Eventually he is convicted of a crime and in lieu of hanging, he (and his wife and child) are sent to the penal colony of New South Wales (Australia). The book is supposed to be more about Thornhill's life in early Australia so I was a bit taken aback by how long it took the story to get there. I'm having a difficult time with this review because I was very interested in the story and didn't want to put it down, but I didn't feel any empathy or understanding for Thornhill and his fellow colonists as they deal with the "savages". I get that due to the lack of education and the mindset of the 19th century, the views of how or why would have been very different but that didn't make it any easier or endearing. Personally, I don't prefer stories when I can't find any redeeming qualities in the characters. I'm torn...I enjoyed the style of writing but not the characters...

  • Carol
    2019-02-20 02:08

    The book describes an English family transported to New South Wales...Sydney and its surrounding area...after William is convicted of theft and sentenced to death or indentured servitude in Australia. Of course of the two choices Australia is looking pretty good. As William, attempts to work his way out of servitude, he falls in love with a parcel of land that’s in unsettled territory for the most part. There is also a large numbers of Aboriginal people already living there, and of course the settlers are anywhere from being wary of them to unbelievable cruelty. The struggle of this family is described in a way that is both understandable and horrifying. Most of the settlers at that time viewed the Aboriginal people as being less than human....and if any of the settlers who attempted to understand and establish a relationship with them were viewed with disgust. We see how even a person with good intentions might be led to commit terrible acts.Also interesting in this book was the tension between William and his wife. It’s maddening at times because they are clearly at odds, and despite her very strong wishes William has control of their was the usual in those times. Wiliams often comes across as thoughtless and uncaring, making promises he has no intentions of keeping. In the end you'll find yourself rooting for William as he attempts to become a better person.

  • Renita D'Silva
    2019-01-23 23:17

    Beautiful. Haunting. A book that makes you think and question. Loved it.

  • Kathryn
    2019-02-12 01:16

    This was a very interesting read. I have, naturally, heard stories of violence between the early settlers from Britain and the the native Aboriginal people and deplored it from both sides, but after reading this, I can certainly see how it came about. There were such different attitudes between the British and the Aboriginal people - from one group who work hard for possessions that appear to offer security and comfort to another group who tread gently on the earth, leaving little, if any, footprint, hunting and gathering as necessary and living in harmony with the land, rather than trying to exploit it. As a member of the former group (sitting in a lounge chair, under a fan powered by electricity [probably generated by a non-renewable energy source] while drinking a glass of cold water from the fridge [also powered by non-renewable energy] and which only had to be collected from the tap in the kitchen in the first place rather than from a spring welling up somewhere), I can understand the early settlers wanting to create something that resembles normality for them and although I can't really fully comprehend the Aboriginal way of life, this book has helped a little and I do feel that I have a bit of understanding about their feeling of fear and desolation when they saw the land upon which they live being taken over by these strange white people. And yet the white people arrived to see a land that looked desolate - no permanent structures and belonging to nobody, at least it appeared that way initially. I can understand how the Aboriginal people - hunters and gatherers - could possibly not have seen any distinction between collecting sticks that they could make into weapons or tools and "collecting" items from some of the early settlers' homes, such as spades, axes etc. Or how, if they did see a distinction, might have thought that this would annoy the British and make them go away. I can feel their concern as they see people come in to take over the land on which they find sustenance - when the main character, William, arrives on the patch of land he's decided will be "his", there is a little area growing some small radish-like bulbs. He notices this, but still ploughs it up in order to plant his crop of corn. I also don't know how the two groups could have co-existed more peacefully when their attitudes to life were so different, especially given the fact that there was no effective common language. And especially when there are disputes regarding territory all over the world, even when there is a common language, and/or interpreters available. I read the sequel to this, The Lieutenant, last year, before I realised that I should have read this one first... I enjoyed it, although I don't remember how it connected in with the Thornhill family from this one - I had a skim through it just after I finished this one and was still none the wiser... However, I just looked at Kate Grenville's website and see that the two are connected not by the characters in each, but by the opposite attitudes and actions described - with The Lieutenant showing a more positive side to the British/Aboriginal relationship. It kind of answers my thoughts about other ways the two groups could have gone about interacting - however it still involved violence on both sides...Overall, this was definitely a good read and a valuable insight into the history of Australia in the early 1800's.

  • Ana Ovejero
    2019-01-29 05:22

    This story is a narration of immigration, building your HOME in another place, leaving behind life to travel to the unknown. This is what happens to the Thornills.William Thornill was born in one of the poorest places in England, seeing himself forced to steal in order to survive. Sal is his neighbour, who is truly his soulmate and who becomes his wife once he finishes his intership as a boatman with Sal's father. The river Thames is his life. However, he gets used to stealing parts of the shipments he has to cross from one side to the other of the river, untill he is discovered and sentenced to death.Sal truly saves his life as she encourages him to write to the authorities, sending him and his family to the prison island of Australia.Now starts a new phase in their lives. At the beginning in Sydney, but once William gets a job transporting goods from the residents living in the shores of the river to the main city. Soon, he finds a place he sees as his future home: Thornhill's Point. However, his idyllic idea of how to make the land productive encounters the existence of aboriginal people.Through the story, Thornhill and his family finds themselves having to choose between two approaches towards the aborigines: peaceful co-existence, as his neighbour Blackwood has achieved; or violence, the aggressive way another neighbour called Smasher chooses.The 'civilised' convicts, who have become respectable citizents in the new lands, end up behaving quite 'uncivilised', as the author questions who are the savages. When they are angered, accusing the aborigines of stealing the products of their efforts, they use the word 'thieves', treating the aborigines the same way they were treated in London.This story of colonisation depicts the effects it had in the aboriginal communities, erasing them from their own lands, enslaving them to the colonisers and their customs, being the victims of a mechanical operation to extinguish them completely.

  • Judy
    2019-01-21 07:29

    A fascinating but sometimes disturbing story. This book deals with a young man in London who is condemned to death for stealing. His life is spared, and he is sent to New South Wales, the penal colony that England founded on the Australian continent. The first part of the book is about the hard life of a river man on the Thames. It's difficult to believe that people could endure such circumstances. Life is good for awhile, and Will Thornhill and his wife, Sal, look forward to a better life for their family. Will is a flawed hero, but wants the best for himself and his wife. Hence he risks a theft of valuable wood. Sal is a strong woman who gives her husband courage to fight for his pardon. When they arrive in the penal colony, they begin to make a life and things improve. Will gets his pardon and begins making money by using his skills as a river barge man.Anyone who has read about the settling of Australia, knows that the history parallels the history of the US and the problems that derive from taking land that has been occupied by natives--in this case the Aborigines. This is the disturbing part. Because the white settlers thought the "blacks" less than human, they do terrible things to them. We can say today that the settlers didn't understand the Aborigines, but it is unfair to judge them by today's standards. However it doesn't make it any easier to witness the horrors. I did enjoy reading this book as I do most anything about Australia. Grenville creates real people and makes the reader care about them. All along, I kept hoping that Will and Sal would handle themselves differently than the other settlers when dealing with the Aborigines, but that would be unrealistic. Grenville is true to history even though it is not pretty.

  • Janelle
    2019-01-24 05:26

    This book was okay. It's probably a good enough introduction to colonial issues in Australia, but I was left feeling that the characters were just too flat. Even when the author tries to make the protagonist (Will Thornhill) reflect a little on his life circumstances, he doesn't get very far. As historically accurate as it may be, I was frustrated by a character who is pretty low on the totem pole in early 19th century London but forgets all about what it's like to literally be lorded over when trying to build a new life in Australia. I didn't find the storyline gripping at all - in fact, my mind kept wandering away from the story.The one thing that haunts me is the all-too-grisly image of the slaughter at the end, and how Will agreed to it in order to keep his wife in the (then) far reaches of the Outback despite her firm desire to move her young family to a safer place. She knew it was wrong for them to be there, but he got his way. Hey, all it takes is a little genocide!I was a little surprised to see that author Kate Grenville has accumulated so many awards.Someone pointed out to me that the last book I finished was Louise Erdrich's The Round House, which might be coloring my reception of this novel. I'll admit, it is hard to stand shoulder to shoulder with Louise Erdrich... particularly when taking on issues of conflict between European colonists and native peoples.