The Secret River, Book Review – Kate Grenville


This is a book I had to read for school and to me that’s probably all it will ever be.

I really didn’t enjoy it. The idea of the story sounds decent but I’ve never really been that into historical fiction like this (ironic since I love studying History). Right before reading this book my history class had just finished the unit on the Frontier Wars so I had a bunch of recent background knowledge going into this book. I thought the way it portrays Australian history was excellent. It was real and exposed the story of the past that no one talks about. However, as a fictional story, it was dull to me. My history class on this topic was so interesting! The book about the same thing never captured me.

Watching interviews of Kate Grenville in class has made me see that she’s very much a talented author. The style of writing in this book, though, was way too waffly for me. It was an English teacher’s dream come true. Excruciatingly long, vivid descriptions of the land and everything else. I can see that this was the tone Grenville was going for and in that sense, it worked great; I just found being forced to read it bored me due to the sheer length and detail she goes in to.
(Our assignment is to write a ‘Gap in the Text’, recreating her style of writing so that should be fun for me :/)

Another thing about this book was the timeline. I am a big fan of slice of life stories, books about a chapter of a character’s life that are in-depth for that particular period of time. The Secret River spans upwards of 15 years (I can’t remember exactly right now). Too much happens on a broad scale and nothing all that personal really occurs. Most of the events are about Thornhill’s Land. Intimate character issues are scarcely included besides Thornhill’s character arc which ultimately is about his pursuit of owning land. I think the whole thing is meant to be representative of Australia’s history which means a lot of the aspects of it remain general. I wish we got to go more in-depth about Sal’s personal struggle with leaving London behind or Dick’s detachment from his father or Blackwood’s Australian background. These storylines are just dot points under each character for my class notes whereas I’ve got pages on the symbolism about Will’s battle with the Indigenous – which I get it the main point of the story but it’s kind of all there is.

I admit, the fact that I read this for school certainly brings some negative bias to the table, and I certainly never would have picked it up on my own accord. That is most likely the main reason I didn’t enjoy it – simply because it’s not my kind of book.

Speaking of, I’d say my favourite part was the London chapter where we got read the story of Will growing up in lower class London. This chapter I enjoyed because it was all about each of the little moments in the characters’ lives. However, this section of the book was an entirely different story to what The Secret River is really about – The Frontier Wars.

This was a book that needed to be written and it was done so extremely well – just not the type for me.

2 stars.

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