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The Secret River (Thornhill Family #1)

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  7,820 ratings  ·  955 reviews
The Orange Prize winning author Kate Grenville recalls her families history in an astounding novel about the pioneers of New South Wales. Already a best seller in Australia, The Secret River is the story of Grenville's ancestors, who wrested a new life from the alien terrain of Australia and its native people. William Thornhill, a Thames bargeman, is deported to the New So
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Published by Canongate Books (first published 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Kim

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
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Sharon
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
T.D. Whittle
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
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Peter
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
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Rod
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
Teddy
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
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Cherie
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
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Brenda
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
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Phrynne
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
Kendra
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
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Jonathan

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
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Kathryn
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
Judy
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
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.
Janelle
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Richard
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
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Paola
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
Glorialaihuang
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
Rusalka
Jan 10, 2014 Rusalka rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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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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Blessed
Not what I thought it would be.

An English convict is sent to the the penal colony in the new found English territory of New South Wales (Australia). The personal struggles as the Thornhill family claim a portion of land in the wilds of Australia with all the deplorable living conditions that go with primitive living. The novel is "dedicated to the Aboriginal people of Australia: past, present and future". It describes in graphic detail the struggles of the native peoples who must deal with colo
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Kaarin
I loved this book!
Fair warning: It is gritty and graphic--primarily violence--in some spots, and the topic is sobering (a jolly romp through London and Australia it is not). The grit in this story is totally off my usual reading preferences. BUT the graphic parts weren't gratuitous, and Grenville doesn't wallow in the action and visual descriptions (though some of the images she conjures are profound). It all absolutely had its place in the story and characters.
I can't stop thinking about this
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Sarah Sammis
I heard The Secret River on Radio 4 and was fascinated with the setting: the Hawkesbury river in the early nineteenth century. In 1990 I had the great fortune to backpack along this river and saw first hand the remains of many of these early homesteads. So the setting was already quite vivid in my imagination.

In fact it was my own personal connection to the Hawkesbury that kept me reading The Secret River. The book touches on of my major literary pet peeves: the complete disregard for quotation
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Glenn T. Ryan
The Secret River follows the life of young convict, William Thornhill, and his progression from a Thames waterman to a convict in colonial Australia. Will wants nothing more than to own his own patch of New South Wales to make a better life for himself and his family. The problem: the land he desires is occupied.
As a history teacher, I enjoyed the way Grenville made this aspect of our past accessible. The story, though fiction, is tangible and gives an insight into life before federation.
As a f
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Elaine
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.
♥ Marlene♥
Reading this book thanks to Vanda who was reading the third book of this trilogy and was not really liking it. But hey she started with the third book ;)

Really enjoyed it but I have always loved reading about prisoners who were deported to Australia and America back in the day of the new world.

This felt as a dark book but so interesting. I loved the characters, although the main character did not always do nice things he is definitely human.

It did make me wonder because as in all books like this
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Ron Charles
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
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Liz
Well, we just returned from a trip to Australia (and New Zealand), and as with my last trip to Australia (20 years ago), I was amazed at the lack of presence of the native peoples of this country, except in tourist souvenir stores. So, I was interested in reading this book, which is a fictional account of a "convict" family that is sent to Australia from England, and their experiences in the establishment of the convict land dominance over the Aborigines. It is a well told story (it was a 2006 M ...more
Glee
Heart-breaking, difficult telling of the early settlment of New South Wales (now Australia) by English convicts. As horrifying as it gets at times, it feels like an emotionally truthful telling. The writer is especially good at imagery. She paints the landscapes - both the bleak, cold, wet London and the contrast of sunlight that is so bright it hurts the eyes and the starkness of the windswept territory that is New South Wales. The protagonist is William Thornhill, a riverman by trade, who know ...more
Booknblues
Kate Grenville set out to write a book about her great-great-great grandfather Solomon Wiseman, but along the way it morphed into a fictional account of him as a character named William Thornhill and his wife Sarah or as she is more commonly known in the novel Sal. The Secret River is an award winning book and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2006.

I expect that those who love historical fiction as I do will find this book hard to put down. I enjoyed the look of London during the early 180
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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...
The Idea of Perfection The Lieutenant Sarah Thornhill Lilian's Story Dark Places

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“it crossed Farren's mind that although death seemed big, life was even bigger” 2 likes
“How short a time a person had to be alive, he thought. How long to be dead.” 0 likes
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