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The Secret River (Thornhill Family #1)

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  10,369 Ratings  ·  1,129 Reviews
London, 1807. William Thornhill, happily wedded to his childhood sweetheart Sal, is a waterman on the River Thames. Life is tough but bearable until William makes a mistake, a bad mistake for which he and his family are made to pay dearly. His sentence: to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. The Thornhills arrive in this harsh and alien land ...more
Kindle Edition, 386 pages
Published (first published 2005)
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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
Sep 28, 2014 T.D. Whittle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviews
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
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
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
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
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
Dec 09, 2012 Jonathan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

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
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
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
Nov 16, 2015 Rusalka rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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 review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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
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
Oct 30, 2013 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting novel delineating the cultural conflict between the Native Australian culture and the invading British Colonial population. I felt that the opening London section was too long for what is essentially a prelude but it does develop the theme of making choices influenced by events on two secret rivers.--One in London--the other in australia.

The characters are quite well drawn, especially that of Thornhill who is seen as an essentially decent human being who loves his wife and
Nov 03, 2013 Paola rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
I had a hard time with the first half of this book, as I found the two main characters, William Thornhill and his girlfriend-then-wife Sal very unbelievable, or rather I should say I found their relationship unbelievable, especially bearing in mind the time at which the action takes place. These are hard times, so it is hard for me to imagine that a woman looking after five children and a husband breaking his back toiling the soil on his own from dawn till evening would still have the energy to ...more
Liza Perrat
Jun 14, 2012 Liza Perrat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Orange Fiction prize-winner, Kate Grenville wanted to know what happened to one of her ancestors, Thames boatman Soloman Wiseman, when he arrived in New South Wales, early in the 19th century. She wondered about his interaction with the Aboriginal people. Originally intended as a non-fiction work on her research into Wiseman, the book eventually became the fictional The Secret River, narrated through the eyes of William Thornhill.
A Thames River bargeman born into poverty, Thornhill’s dire circum
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
Elizabeth Ashworth
To say that I enjoyed this book would not, perhaps, be the most adequate description - but it was compelling enough to keep me reading into the early hours of the morning, although the subject matter was at times difficult.

The book records the experiences of William Thornhill, reprieved from death on the gallows for a petty crime in London, he and his wife and baby are transported to Australia where they struggle to make a life for themselves. They eventually take possession of a parcel of land
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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.” 2 likes
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