The Secret River, Paperback
5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


London, 1806 - 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.

Soon Thornhill, a man no better or worse than most, has to make the most difficult decision of his life ...The Secret River is a universal and timeless story of love, identity and belonging.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352 pages, map
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 9780857860842



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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

William Thornhill grew up as a fighter. Born into poverty, he learned to steal when he was ten years old. After his parents died, he became an apprentice. In seven years he would be a freeman with his own boat to ferry people across the Thames River. Before seven years were up, Mr. Middleton died and Will married his daughter, Sal. Life went downhill, but Sal was always positive, bolstering him. When he was sent to New South Wales as a thief, she accompanied him. Because Sal was a free woman, Will escaped the work crew. He worked his own fields, giving a tithe to the king, and was free except he could not leave the colony.Grenville warms us to Thornhill’s character just in time to reveal the book’s central themes—British imperialism which extends to Thornhill and other settlers, disregard for the aboriginal culture, and the reverence the Aborigines felt toward their land. The book is powerful with wonderful metaphors. Grenville isn’t out to please us, but to clearly paint the uneasy co-existence of the whites and the Aborigines. Violent and gritty, the book shows us xenophobia at its zenith. “Duty to King and country” comes at the expense of the natives. Honesty is power and Grenville hits this one out of the ballpark.

Review by

Interesting characters, beautiful writing - this was a fantastic novel. Fascinating historical setting, and a time and place I knew very little about. Highly recommended.

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