It was the best of times it was… jail or Australia for William Thornhill. That’s the way the cookie is crumbling in author Kate Grenville’s novel The Secret River. Set in 1806, The Secret River is the story of a convict settlement in New South Wales. Forced by circumstances to steal, William is caught and wins the all expenses paid, one way cruise to an Australian penal colony. William’s life sentence is the re-making of him. He has been a petty criminal since childhood and avoiding the gallows in exchange for a new life for himself and his pregnant wife has the potential to take him from no-hope poverty to a chance.
Once in New South Wales, William begins the arduous process of going from convict/slave to freeman with help from his wife Sal and their children. Still struggling with the poverty that has dogged him all his life, he eventually stakes a claim to land along the Hawkesbury River. Alas even working himself up to being a landowner does not bring smooth sailing for William and Sal. His claim brings him in conflict with the native aborigines. The uneasy coexistence between the white settlers and aborigines is in constant danger of tipping into violence. This relationship is the real heart of the novel.
Grenville has hit one out of the park. She has taken the classic settle the west novel and made it new and powerful with wonderful writing. The Secret River is a novel of escalating struggles and discord told in nimble and penetrating writing. I am hearting this riveting novel.