The Secret River by Kate Grenville: A Review

Note: First off, before I kick things off with today’s review I want to say a massive thank you to all with the supportive comments after my HarperCollins post! I’ve had nothing but the best support from the best of people, and it truly means a lot to me, I’ll make sure to make you all proud! Anyway, here’s my review of The Secret River – hope you enjoy!

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Truth be told, I have always lived a relatively sheltered life. It’s always been myself, my family, and a close-knit group of friends. I was often blind to the things happening around me, and only concerned about the immediacy of my family and my friendship group. Thankfully, my time at university did actually change that. One of the first modules I took for my literature class was ‘Issues in Contemporary World Literature.’ And of course, in the duration of the module we were branching on subjects such as apartheid, the aborigine culture, and one’s own sense of identity. This began with Grenville’s The Secret River.

We are introduced to the character of William Thornhill. Convict, Englishman, and banished from England, he is then relocated to the seemingly desolate land of Australia. In his former residence of England, he was seen as a convict. A man plagued with poverty and no hope for the future, his fate was all but determined. However, Thornhill spots his own opportunity to make something for himself in the seemingly empty grounds of Australia – with his wife and children, he can finally have a place he could call home. Unbeknownst to Thornhill, however, is that he isn’t the only resident of the land…

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Three years on, and the novel still stands as an eye opener for me.

Grenville’s novel focuses initially on Thornhill’s own sense of identity. At first, everything he had as an Englishman was lost due to his follies, and in consequence, he had to reinvent himself in Australia. However, while the readers may root on for him as he is the protagonist of the novel, I however felt bad supporting him and his interests – purely because his very presence was in contest with the aborigine people. I felt that Thornhill’s actions to grow and make something for himself in a new land was at the cost of the people originally belonging to the land.

Grenville’s novel touches on some very hard-hitting themes, as we’re given an insight into the dichotomy between the new party of the convicts versus the original holders of the land, the aborigines. Personally, when I first read the novel a lot of these themes escaped me. I had hardly even considered how the indigenous people of Australia had felt during the course of this novel. Of course, Grenville uses her dedication to the Aboriginal people, as a combined apology, acknowledgement and testament to their very being.

I think ultimately, Grenville writes a tale of loss and identity, and what one man will do to find his again. With retrospect this book is even more powerful, as it refuses to let you idly stand by and be spectator to Thornhill’s actions. You’re there every single moment of the novel, and that’s something every author should strive for, and something Kate Grenville does brilliantly in this novel. I know for a fact this novel will stick with me for a very long time.

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Until next time,

Ben

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