The Secret River

March 28, 2008 at 7:21 pm Leave a comment

Kate Grenville. I finished this a while back and it completely blew me away. So much so that I didn’t really know what to say about it. I started reading it in September last year, when I was leaving Norway for months and months and needed something to distract me. It was The Secret River or a medieval crime novel my friend kindly lent me. I thought I’d be in the mood for genre fiction. But – Grenville’s prose was utterly captivating. It’s hard to describe. As I’m back in Norway now and the book’s in England, I can’t quote you any. It’s not jarring at all. It lets you in. It somehow captures the tonality of nineteenth century London – Dicken’s London – while at the same time feeling like nothing you’ve ever read before. Strangely immediate. Strangely new. But comfortable all the same.

It tells the story of Will and Sal’s childhood and young adulthood in London, before Will is sentenced to exportation to Australia. Sal and their children go too. I hadn’t known that happened (families accompanying convicts, I mean), but I think Grenville has done some pretty substantial research. So it becomes a novel of the early settlement in Australia, and encounters with the Aboriginals.

I finished three quarters of the novel and then put it down for several months. I couldn’t bear to keep reading. I knew something horrible would happen. When I finally picked it up again, of course it did. It was hard to read but I am glad that it is written. What impressed me most about the novel is the incredible way she captures the way Will feels about his new land – both alienation and belonging, and the difficulties and necessity of building a future around an unspeakable past.


Entry filed under: Australia, Kate Grenville.

The Black Prince Why you should read Francis Webb (with a medievalist interlude)

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