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The Secret River (Thornhill Family #1)

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  11,219 Ratings  ·  1,195 Reviews
In the early nineteenth century William Thornhill is transported from the slums of London to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. He arrives with his wife Sal and their children in a harsh land he does not understand.

Eight years later, Thornhill sails up the Hawkesbury as a free man to claim a hundred acres. Aboriginal people already live on the river and Thor
Paperback, 334 pages
Published 2006 by Text Publishing (first published 2005)
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The Secret River by Kate GrenvillePicnic at Hanging Rock by Joan LindsayA Town Like Alice by Nevil ShuteThe Light Between Oceans by M.L. StedmanOscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
Fictitious Australia
1st out of 188 books — 26 voters
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard FlanaganThe Secret River by Kate GrenvilleMusic From Standing Waves by Johanna CravenCloudstreet by Tim WintonThe Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
Down Under
2nd out of 263 books — 26 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 18, 2012 Kim rated it it was amazing

I am an Australian of Anglo-Celtic and Northern European background, meaning that my ancestry is English, Cornish, Irish, German and Danish, with a bit of Scottish thrown in for good measure. I was born in Sydney, where I still live. More than five generations of my ancestors on both sides were born in Australia. This takes my roots in the country back to the early 19th century, which in white Australian terms is a long time. One of my ancestors was a convict transported from Ireland because he
T.D. Whittle
Mar 08, 2016 T.D. Whittle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviews, audio-books
This is a bit of a ramble through the Australian literary bush, and suitable more for people who've already read the book, who may wish to compare notes. These are my reflections after finishing The Secret River, and they are not intended for readers trying to decide whether or not to read it. If that’s your only reason for looking at my review, then my advice is yes, read it, but don’t read my review any further. (Though, in case you dismiss that warning, I have included spoiler alerts.)

This bo
For years I’d wanted to have a go at this, and when Grenville was again nominated for an Australian Prime Minister’s Award for the third book in the trilogy (Sarah Thornhill) of which this novel is the first, I finally decided to begin at the beginning. This novel was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2006, and won numerous other awards when it came out, for good reason. It is old-time storytelling, whose characters who begin life poor and grubby on the streets of London early in the ninete ...more
Mar 05, 2011 Rod rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, this book is admirably researched and yes, the basic premise is interesting. But no, it is not particularly absorbing and no, it is not well written. I have a particular bias against writers that spend an inordinate amount of time on painstaking (read painful) descriptions of setting. The novel is 334 pages long - about 80 per cent of that is taken up with environmental minutiae (or at least it felt like it). Pages and pages of it - then perhaps a couple of lines of dialogue, hidden away in ...more
Apr 30, 2014 Sharon rated it really liked it
From a young age William Thornhill knew what it was like to live rough and go with out and to feel hungry all the time. Living with his family in the slums of London along the Thames River he is forced to steal as a means of survival. He is only thirteen when his parents die which is when things start looking increasingly grim. William gets friendly with one of his sisters friends, Sarah (Sal) Middleton who is an only child. She may not have been the prettiest girl, but William thinks things loo ...more
The Secret River explores human instinct on a level that is visceral, honest... and depressing.

Or perhaps it is just Western instinct, rather than human instinct--and that is even more depressing.

The novel tracks a family of Brits at the turn of the 19th century as the family is deported to Australia for crimes committed by William Thornhill, husband and father, and as it engages the challenges of the wilderness. At its core, The Secret River is the story of the family's interactions with the a
This book already feels like such a classic to me even though it was published only 11 years ago. I have already seen the play and TV series based on it and now finally in reading the book, the story seems an even more powerful one of the cultural clash that happened all over Australia with the coming of the white man to this ancient continent and culture.

Kate Grenville is a very accomplished author and the tells this story of the ignorance and arrogance of the colonialists in invading the land
I was given the box set of these three books for Christmas a few years back and though I liked the writing very much...they are not very big books ...I thought there was room for a bit more in-depth story about the Thornhills as a family and as individuals. I felt they were ultimately portrayed in a more villainous light than they actually appeared to be. Given the circumstances I believe it would have been an equally frightening experience for all concerned and that they (the Thornhills and th ...more
Dec 09, 2012 Jonathan rated it did not like it

I honestly hope that my response to this was not simply born out of two simple facts. 1) That I studied this novel in year 12 (and as such had not reviewed it until now) and 2) that I'm honestly irritated by the repetitive nature of Australian literature centred around these themes. I've read too many stories that take a simplistic approach to the Indigenous/settler relations and come up with a 'the settlers were bad cuz they killed all them natives' mentality. I don't think things are that simp
Sep 02, 2015 RitaSkeeter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books I've meant to read for a long time, but never felt a strong urge until I saw the recent mini-series on TV. Sadly for me, it must have created an urge for just about everyone else to read the book as well so I had a couple of months waiting impatiently for a library copy.

I can't imagine how difficult life was for my early ancestors. Transported to new colony that very little was known about, and finding things all upside down. The seasons were different, the wildlif
What a contrast in stories from my last read!

This book was a great story from the first moment to the last. I listened to this book via Blackstone Audio, narrated by Simon Vance.

The story begins early in 1800 and follows the life of Will Thornton from London to Sydney, Australia. He and his family are sent to live there. He goes because he was caught stealing. His wife and baby went because they had no where else to go and no one to support them.

It is a very complete story with great characte
When William Thornhill was a child in the slums of London, his family was incredibly poor…stealing just to survive. His sister Lizzie’s friend lived in Swan Lane, and she became like a sister to William. Sal Middleton became central in William’s life, and when his parents died, first his Mum, then his Dad soon afterwards, and left him and his siblings orphaned, he was able to spend time with Sal, in the warmth of her home, within the love of her parents.

Mr Middleton took William on as an apprent
Aug 11, 2007 Teddy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2005
It was my pleasure to review this excellent book for Harper Collins Canada. Here's what I said:

The Secret River by Kate Grenville is historical fiction at it’s finest. It starts off as a quiet pondering story of the toils in poverty-stricken 19th century England where most must resort to stealing to survive. Here Grenville focused on her central character, William Thornhill who got caught thieving to feed his family. He was sentenced to death, however that was commuted to life in New South Wales
Having read a lot of five star reviews for this book I was hoping for something great but for me it turned out just ordinary. I really feel I have read this same kind of story so many times and some of them were better told than this one. It was a fairly short book and the story moved along well. Kate Grenville is like Bryce Courtney in that she seems to revel in the dirt and grime of that age and she was very into describing the atrocities committed between the settlers and the indigenous peopl ...more
Nov 16, 2015 Rusalka rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Rusalka by: Top Aussie Books Before You Die
This book kicked me. I was sitting there thinking about the human condition, and why we are such scared arseholes, and a baby chicken jumps up next to me, snuggles down and wraps her head around into my lap. Some times we aren't I guess. Some times chickens, who are a bit naive, love you to bits. So I think this book should be sold/lent/issued with a chicken. So you have something fluffy to love you while you read it.

That being said, the book was great. It was a book that tells you the story of
Ron Charles
Dec 31, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The most remarkable quality of Kate Grenville's new novel is the way it conveys the enormous tragedy of Australia's founding through the moral compromises of a single ordinary man. "The Secret River" reminds us that national history may be recorded as a succession of larger-than-life leaders and battles, but in fact a country arises from the accretion of personal dreams, private sacrifices and, often, hidden acts of cruelty.

The special power of this novel took me off guard because several years
Ana Ovejero
Mar 04, 2016 Ana Ovejero rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story is a narration of immigration, building your HOME in another place, leaving behind life to travel to the unknown. This is what happens to the Thornills.

William Thornill was born in one of the poorest places in England, seeing himself forced to steal in order to survive. Sal is his neighbour, who is truly his soulmate and who becomes his wife once he finishes his intership as a boatman with Sal's father. The river Thames is his life. However, he gets used to stealing parts of the shipm
This was a very interesting read. I have, naturally, heard stories of violence between the early settlers from Britain and the the native Aboriginal people and deplored it from both sides, but after reading this, I can certainly see how it came about. There were such different attitudes between the British and the Aboriginal people - from one group who work hard for possessions that appear to offer security and comfort to another group who tread gently on the earth, leaving little, if any, footp ...more
Jan 31, 2013 Kendra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
William Thornhill is the poorest of the poor in early 1800's London. He manages to barely survive his childhood only to continue the struggle into adulthood. Eventually he is convicted of a crime and in lieu of hanging, he (and his wife and child) are sent to the penal colony of New South Wales (Australia). The book is supposed to be more about Thornhill's life in early Australia so I was a bit taken aback by how long it took the story to get there.

I'm having a difficult time with this review b
Nov 01, 2013 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating but sometimes disturbing story. This book deals with a young man in London who is condemned to death for stealing. His life is spared, and he is sent to New South Wales, the penal colony that England founded on the Australian continent. The first part of the book is about the hard life of a river man on the Thames. It's difficult to believe that people could endure such circumstances. Life is good for awhile, and Will Thornhill and his wife, Sal, look forward to a better life for t ...more
Text Publishing
Exciting times! Only a few weeks until the adaptation of The Secret River hits your screens on Auntie ABC...

and, if you think being surprised by plot twists is overrated, we've released an accompanying book of spoilers. We even have a cover specially for it:
This was historical fiction. I found some of this fascinating. In the early 1800's, England condemned criminals to death, (even for minor offenses). Then as a reprieve, they were granted life and shipped off to Sydney, Australia. And if they had a family that would then become a burden to England, they were shipped off too, but then given their husband as a slave to eek out some kind of living in the untamed area of Sydney. So, financially speaking, the government was off the hook.

I liked the c
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This book was like a good piece of toast - you appreciate it and enjoy it while you're consuming it, but you know that you're going to forget about it afterwards. It's not that it isn't a good story, or that the writing isn't capable - it's more that I was never fully engaged by either. The story follows an English man who is caught stealing and has his sentence commuted to exile in Australia in the 19th century. In Australia, the man and his family struggle with setting up a new life, finding t ...more
It's been a long time since I'v been confronted by our history. Grenville did this for me with this book. I think every now and again we as Australians need a "Secret River". As tragic and harsh a time it was, this book had me going back and forth, my sympathies being divided between the Natives and the early settlers.I can't believe I waited this long to read this book.
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Beginning in 18th Century London, The Secret River tells the story of William Thornhill who becomes a waterman on the Thames and eventually in New South Wales. Kate Grenville has woven a story that should become a classic.
In 1806 the lighterman William Thornhill breaks the law so he and family are transported to New South Wales [today's Australia]. The novel deals with the whites sent there and their uneasy relationship with the natives. William claims a bit of land and he and family try to make a go of it. After a period of years he finds that Australia has changed him. His wife still speaks wistfully of Home -- England -- but to him it is becoming a distant memory.

For a long part the novel dragged and it was a
Apr 03, 2015 Starseeker rated it liked it
3.5 stars.
So I think I would have enjoyed this book more if it wasn't prescribed reading for school.
Talking about it with a teacher I've come to appreciate how the author is so passionate and detailed about making sure what she writes is a reflection of the time period and main character.
I also love the author for talking about the settlement of Australia. If an
Dec 16, 2014 Debra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a type of book, where the more I think about it, the more I like it.

William Thornhill grew up poor in England. His parents died when he was young leaving him to are for his younger siblings. He takes a job as an apprentice with his childhood friend, Sal's parents. He has always liked Sal and as he learns a trade and sleeps under the same roof with her he falls in love with her. At the end of his apprenticeship he and Sal marry. Her parents also pass away. Tragedy seems to follow them. W
“The Alexander, with its cargo of convicts, had bucked over the face of the ocean for the better part of a year. Now it had fetched up at the end of the earth. There was no lock on the door of the hut where William Thornhill, transported for the term of his natural life in the Year of Our Lord eighteen hundred and six, was passing his first night in His Majesty’s penal colony of New South Wales.”

I have to admit, when I spotted the endorsement “2006 Man Booker Prize Finalist” on the cover of thi
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Kate Grenville is one of Australia's best-known authors. She's published eight books of fiction and four books about the writing process. Her best-known works are the international best-seller The Secret River, The Idea of Perfection, The Lieutenant and Lilian's Story (details about all Kate Grenville's books are elsewhere on this site). Her novels have won many awards both in Australia and the UK ...more
More about Kate Grenville...

Other Books in the Series

Thornhill Family (3 books)
  • The Lieutenant
  • Sarah Thornhill

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“How short a time a person had to be alive, he thought. How long to be dead.” 3 likes
“it crossed Farren's mind that although death seemed big, life was even bigger” 3 likes
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