Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

The Secret River

For years I’d wanted to have a go at reading this, and when Grenville was again nominated for an Australian Prime Minister’s Award for Sarah Thornhill, the third book in the trilogy of which The Secret River 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 nineteenth century, get “sent down” to Australia in a convict ship, earn their freedom, and scratch out an existence in that unholy land.

Grenville’s descriptions give us the crammed, cold, crooked, cobbled streets of London grimy with cold dust. She contrasts this with the dry heat of Australia, blazing with sun, and the wide open, unsettled (and unsettling) bigness of it. The Australian Aborigine is caught to perfection in her words…the thinness, the looseness of limbs, the blackness, the brows, the teeth, the joy, the dignity and fierceness. Her language is Dickensian, her story that of Australia.

Parts of this book are difficult to read, they seem so cruel. That man is a fearful and fearsome creature, we know. It is just painful to see ourselves through that glass so darkly reflected. I can hardly recommend this title enough. I have loved the writing of Kate Grenville forever, it seems. She has the potential for greatness, and while some of her books may not quite reach that level, this one does. I listened to this book on Blackstone Audio, narrated by the excellent Simon Vance.

For those who come away from this book with that breathless sense of needing to know how she did that, she has written a memoir about writing the novel called Searching For The Secret River: A Writing Memoir. I believe it took her as long to come down from writing it as it will take us to absorb it. I look forward to enjoying her skills again.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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