As featured by Toni Whitmont in the May 2010 Booktopia Buzz. Click here to see all of Booktopia's Newsletters.
- Commonwealth Writers Prize, 2006
- NSW Premier's Literary Awards, Christina Stead Prize and Community Relations Award
- Fellowship of Australian Writers' Christina Stead Award
- Literary Fiction Book of the Year and Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards 2006
- Shortlisted, Miles Franklin
- Shortlisted, Man Booker Prize, 2006
In 1806 William Thornhill, a man of quick temper and deep feelings, is transported from the slums of London to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and their children he arrives in a harsh land he cannot understand.
But the colony can turn a convict into a free man. Eight years later Thornhill sails up the Hawkesbury to claim a hundred acres for himself.
Aboriginal people already live on that river. And other recent arrivals—Thomas Blackwood, Smasher Sullivan and Mrs Herring—are finding their own ways to respond to them.
Thornhill, a man neither better nor worse than most, soon has to make the most difficult choice of his life.
Inspired by research into her own family history, Kate Grenville vividly creates the reality of settler life, its longings, dangers and dilemmas. The Secret River is a brilliantly written book, a ground-breaking story about identity, belonging and ownership.
Praises for The Secret River
'When William Thornhill steps ashore in 1806, it's as if no one has described the scene before him. Such is the power of Grenville's imagination that everything seems newly minted.'
'Fabulous historical fiction.'
'A few sentences of Grenville's makes one realize that much of the writing one encounters in a novel these days is thin and perfunctory. Reading The Secret River may put you off anything less accomplished for a while.'
— Daily Express
'One of the most entertaining, accomplished, engaging novels written in this country...We always knew Kate Grenville was good but this one is brilliant.'
'There is no doubt Grenville is one of our greatest writers... A book everyone should read. It is evocative, gracefully written, terrible and confronting. And it has resonance for every Australian.'
— Sunday Mail
About The Author
Kate Grenville's works include Lilian's Story, Dark Places, Joan Makes History, The Idea of Perfection (winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction), and The Secret River (winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the NSW Premier's Literary Award, and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize).
From Kate Grenville's website:
The Secret River is part of a trilogy about early Australia (along with The Lieutenant, published in 2008, and a third novel in progress).
It's set in the early nineteenth century, on what was then the frontier: the Hawkesbury River, fifty miles beyond Sydney.
William Thornhill, an illiterate Thames bargeman and a man of quick temper but deep feelings, steals a load of timber and is transported to New South Wales in 1806. Like many of the convicts, he's pardoned within a few years and settles on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. Perhaps the Governor grants him the land or perhaps he just takes it - the Hawkesbury is at the extreme edge of settlement at that time and normal rules don't apply.
However he gets the land, it's prime riverfront acreage. It looks certain to make him rich.
There's just one problem with that land: it's already owned. It's been part of the territory of the Darug people for perhaps forty thousand years. They haven't left fences or roads or houses, but they live on that land and use it, just as surely as Thornhill's planning to do.
They aren't going to hand over their land without a fight. Spears may be primitive weapons, but settlers know that they can kill a man as surely as a ball of lead from a musket.
As he realises all this, Thornhill faces an impossible choice.
Some of his neighbours - Smasher Sullivan, Sagitty Birtles - regard the Darug as hardly human, savages with as little right to land as a dog. When the Darug object to being driven off, those settlers have no compunction in shooting or poisoning them.
Other neighbours make a different choice, and find ways to co-exist with the Darug. Blackwood has made a family among them. Mrs Herring "gives them when they ask".
Hostility between blacks and whites gradually escalates. Finally a group of settlers decides to go out and "settle" the Darug for once and for all. Will Thornhill join them?
The decision he makes is with him for the rest of his life.
The Secret River plunges the reader into the experience of frontier life. What was it like - moment to moment, day by day - to have been in that situation? It doesn't judge any of the characters or their actions, only invites the reader to ask the question, "What might I have done in that situation?"
The Lieutenant, the second book of the trilogy, is set two decades earlier, when the first colonists arrived in New South Wales. In many ways it's a mirror-image of The Secret River, taking up some of the same themes but arriving at a very different outcome (see elsewhere on this site for more details about The Lieutenant).
Searching for the Secret River is a memoir of the process of researching and writing The Secret River. It shows how events from the historical record were used in the novel, where they were changed, and the reasons for these choices. In drawing back the curtain on the process of writing fiction, it's also a useful and, I hope, reassuring account of the sometimes uncertain process of writing a work of fiction. (See more detail elsewhere on this site.)
The Secret River won the Commonwealth Prize for Literature; the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction (the NSW Premier's Prize); the Community Relations Commission Prize; the Booksellers' Choice Award; the Fellowship of Australian Writers Prize and the Publishing Industry Book of the Year Award.
It was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and the Man Booker Prize and longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin prize.
As well as Australasia, it has been published in the UK, Canada and the US, and in translation in many European and Asian countries.
Number Of Pages: 352
Published: 3rd May 2010
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 12.9
Weight (kg): 0.284