Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Secret River-Kate Grenville

The Secret River-Kate Grenville

the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 349
gender: F
nationality: Australia
year: 2005

The Secret River is the story of Australia's white 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.

I ended this book on a note of anguish. The horrors of colonialism just pluck at this special place of hatred in me which may be unfair but still, I just can't help it. While reading this I just hated Thornhill for being such a weak man who found violence and British arrogance as the only solution, and Sal for being almost delusional. This is my knee-jerk reaction since these are very bigoted characters in today's world.

In 1806 however, this is a story of a Thornhill, a settler who, against his will, was wrested from his homeland and sent to the bewildering colony of Australia and falls in love with a particular piece of land. This love for land and his family causes him to ally with the most despicable type of settler (which Thornhill is not) and commit colonial cruelties to keep it all safe for himself and his family. Throughout the book their precariousness is clear despite their best efforts and their struggles in London also plucked that special place of hatred for that system. This was pretty much a bog standard family with no special reserves of hatred or bigotry.

Which makes it all so much worse in Australia. With Sal constantly pining for England and ignoring the beauty of Australia and Thornhill simply out for himself, it was almost inevitable that something really terrible would happen. Since this is colonialism, it was the Aborigines who end up suffering the most. The book was accurate in that at first relations were decent between the whites and Aborigines but then descended into tensions but quite frankly, it seemed like the whites' fault.

Well-written this novel is and it certainly evoked many, many feelings, I had to give it a side because of all the anger it caused me with its conclusion of Thornhill on his estate wondering why he couldn't feel as much satisfaction or security from the land itself. ARGH. That one note of judgement in what is otherwise a very balanced and nonjudgmental book, I don't know, whipped my fury horse into gallop into a rant of how inexcusable it all was.

Great book. Quite frankly, all great fiction ought to leave you conflicted and FEELING and this book delivers.

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