Friday, May 16, 2014
Relatively Recently Read
I would say I found this book to be pretty good, but not like the spate of really good reads I've been immersed in lately. The Secret River follows the life of William Thornhill, a Thames bargeman, who is caught stealing and, rather than being hanged, is sent to the penal colony in New South Wales. Knowing next to nothing about the English settlement of Australia, but knowing a fair amount about the European conquest of the Americas, I was interested in Kate Grenville's take on the brutality of colonialism, life on the frontier, and the fluidity of social and economic status in a "new world".
I think Grenville does a good job vividly depicting the horrific conditions of the penal colony and the shocking violence of the colonizers against the aboriginal inhabitants of the land and the land itself. Where I think the book doesn't reach great heights is in the characterizations of Thornhill and his wife. Their relationship is too-good-to-be-true in the first half of the book and hollows out as Thornhill's quest for power and domination turn him from an honorable man into a tyrant.
While the story was enlightening (and disturbing), the writing itself didn't elevate this novel from good to great. Overall, I'm glad to have read it, but it wasn't a favorite.