Sarah Thornhill – Kate Grenville

Sarah Thornhill is an example of historical fiction which feels like a reflection of the reality of the time – although the author’s Acknowledgements suggest that this is a controversial position: Sarah Thornhill, youngest daughter of emancipated convict William Thornhill who we met in The Secret River, growing up on the family estate on the banks of the Hawkesbury river, falling in love with a neighbour Jack Langland and discovering that his mixed race – European father and Aborigine mother – does make a difference in her second generation colonial world. As Sarah matures we’re shown the parallels between the English colonisation of Ireland and the Australian colonies, the links between NSW and New Zealand and the contrasting experiences of Aborigine and Maori encounters with the first and second generation colonials.

Author’s page: Sarah Thornhill – Kate Grenville

Lilian’s Story – Kate Grenville

Lilian Singer’s life stretches from an Edwardian middle class childhood in semi-rural suburbia to being a bag lady in central Sydney. En route, Kate Grenville describes the transition from awkward debutante teen to mental breakdown and institutionalisation, first in a mental asylum and, in later years, prison. Lilian is not an immediately appealing character and her story is not an obviously happy one, but by the end of the book I was in tears, but half-happy ones.

Amazon.co.uk: Lilian’s Story – Kate Grenville

The Secret River – Kate Grenville

Having enjoyed The Idea of Perfection I decided to try The Secret River, and found it an excellent read. Set in the late 18th/early 19th century, it follows the descent into poverty and crime of Thames waterboatman William Thornhill, culminating in Will’s being transported to Australia, and fortunately (for him) his childhood sweetheart Sal and wife was allowed to follow.

The New South Wales section of the novel is a reflection of the London opening – seeing roles reversed and the family slowly but surely pulling themselves out of penury in this strange new land of heat and big skies. Their relationships with the local aborigine peoples of the Hawkesbury River provide a whole range of reflections – cultural, personal, political – not just between the native population and the European settlers, but between the incomers themselves, highlighting the range of approaches and opinions across the generations.

A good book. Strange reading it in Iran.

Amazon.coluk link: The Secret River – by Kate Grenville

The Idea of Perfection – Kate Grenville

Set in a small NSW town in the modern Australian outback, with strong characters and a focus on the past, I found this to be a book with depth, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Ignore the blurb on the back which talks of romance between two apparently mismatched temporary residents of Karakarook – yes, that does eventually come, but the book is about modern Australia and the few generations of white man and women who write and determine the history of this far more ancient land, and features relationships and attitutes that are far more complex, and rewarding, than the blurb suggests.

If you like Tim Winton’s West coast Australian novels, I think you’ll like this East coast equivalent.

Amazon.co.uk link: The Idea of Perfection – Kate Grenville