Of Convicts and Colonies

Kate Grenville is a terrific writer.  Her historical novel The Secret River is about the settlement of New South Wales by exiled British criminals.  The book traces the life of William Thornhill, growing up poor in the slums of London in the early 1800’s. A chance opportunity leads to a lighterman apprenticeship on the Thames, yet despite the grueling physical labor, Thornhill can’t make enough money to support his wife and kids.  Caught in an ill-advised theft, he escapes the noose by accepting an exiled life in a new place.  Thornhill discovers that his new beginning is at odds with the way of life of the native aborigines, leading to acts of aggression and physical violence.

The El Toro Book Club discussed The Secret River at a recent meeting. Members said they were engaged by the story and characters, and appreciated the author’s research and historical accuracy. They talked about the British class structure and how it compared to the culture of the aborigines.  They liked how the author portrayed how difficult it was for the British to make sense of a completely different culture, and how this lack of understanding lead to distrust, fear and violence. 

The Secret River is fiction that is historical, yet timely and relevant at the same time.  A big “thumbs up” from me.

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