Book Club: The Secret River

Its been difficult to quantify the pros and cons felt about this month’s book. It certainly stirred up quite a few discussion points, both good and bad.

The story is set firstly in 19th Century London, where William and Sal Thornhill live a life that is tough, but happy, and is the only thing they have ever known. But everything changes when Thornhill is caught and convicted of stealing wood- initially sentenced to hang, the family are more than grateful when it is changed to deportation, and they are all sent off to the newly established colony of Sydney in Australia. From there, the opportumity comes for them to build a new life, or return to their old familiar life in London.

The concept of a punishment possibly leading to a better life for the criminal is awkward, especially as Thornhill starts to get such grandiose ideas that begin to change him into something awful. His desperation to prove himself a success means he pretty much ignores Sal’s dreams of returnig home and treats the natives with contempt as he sets up home on their land. Difficult to read at times, this book highlights how badly natives were treated by Western colonists, sometimes deliberately maliciously, sometimes through sheer ignorance. This made it difficult to choose a favourite character. But the descriptions of London and Sydney and its surrounding landscapes were certainly interesting.

However, there was something about this book that was a little off putting, and though we couldn’t quite put our finger on it, it could simply have been the fact that all the speech was written in italics, which everyone felt made it difficult to contect with the characters – part of me felt like they werent really speaking. Thought provoking and interesting, but falling short of the mark for some reason – three stars.

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