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I must confess I came to The Secret River by Kate Grenville rather reluctantly, even though I had loved many of Kate's earlier books, indeed felt I had grown up with her work in particular Lilian's Story (1985) and Joan Makes History (1988). And when Idea of Perfection broke away from the pack and scooped the Orange Prize 2001 despite being the 7-1 outsider, the bookies favourite being Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, I too felt a nationalistic pride in 'our Kate'. But a convict book? The thought brought back terrible memories of endless, somnific high school history classes which only ever seemed to contain convicts, the gold rush and the invention of the stump-jump plough. Snore. But after reading the first couple of pages I was hooked. I carried the book with me so I could grab a few more pages. I read it in the queue at the bank. In the early 19th century life was hard for young orphaned William Thornhill. Growing up in the slums of Tanner's Lane had made him tough, quick-witted and a good thief to boot. Salvation seems to come with his wife Sal and the prospect of an honest living as waterman rowing the eddies and tides of the Thames. The good life proves elusive and Thornhill is sentenced to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With the devoted Sal and children in tow he establishes a life in Sydney before being enticed to the 'unoccupied' farming lands of the Hawkesbury. And it's here in this version of paradise that traditions old and new become a battle ground as the white settlers take up their claims. The interaction between white and black and the terrible events which you know are destiny have been so very carefully handled. What could have been mawkish and sentimental is instead complex and real, redolent with emotion and contradictions. The secret of the river is no longer hidden. Kate Grenville's many fans will be truly delighted with The Secret River. It's sure to prove a winner with literary judges and bookclubs. The Secret River is by turns a convincing convict saga and a novel rich in characters, alive with vivid prose, full of energy and provocation. Kate Grenville has never written better. It's so haunting I almost couldn't bear to read the last part. I am also very pleased I have never had to eat salt pork. Fiona Stager is co-owner of Brisbane's Avid Reader Bookshop C. 2005 Thorpe-Bowker and contributors
Magnificent . . . Grenville s psychological acuity, and the sheer gorgeousness of her descriptions of the territory being fought over, pulls us ever deeper into a time when one community s opportunity spelled another s doom. The New Yorker UnforgettableA masterwork. Chicago Tribune Grenville [writes] with such inventive energy, descriptive verve and genuine love of revitalizing history that you ll bite the hand that tries to haul you away from this book[it] is fabulous historical fiction. The Australian " "Magnificent . . . Grenville's psychological acuity, and the sheer gorgeousness of her descriptions of the territory being fought over, pulls us ever deeper into a time when one community's opportunity spelled another's doom." --"The New Yorker" "Unforgettable...A masterwork." -"Chicago Tribune" "Grenville [writes] with such inventive energy, descriptive verve and genuine love of revitalizing history that you'll bite the hand that tries to haul you away from this book...[it] is fabulous historical fiction." -"The Australian"