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The Secret River cover art

The Secret River

By: Kate Grenville
Narrated by: Paul Blackwell
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Summary

In 1806 William Thornhill, a man of quick temper and deep feelings, is transported from the slums of London to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife, Sal, and their children he arrives in a harsh land he cannot understand. But the colony can turn a convict into a free man. Eight years later Thornhill sails up the Hawkesbury to claim 100 acres for himself.

Aboriginal people already live on that river. And other recent arrivals - Thomas Blackwood, Smasher Sullivan, and Mrs Herring - are finding their own ways to respond to them. Thornhill, a man neither better nor worse than most, soon has to make the most difficult choice of his life.

©2005 Kate Grenville (P)2005 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Producer: Heather Steen.

Critic reviews

" The Secret River is a powerful, highly credible account of how a limited man of good instincts becomes involved in enormity and atrocity. It is, at one remove, a sane and moving allegory of Australian development. It has quiet drama and drama of the hectic ghastly breakneck kind. It would make a fine film. It has the subtlety of being a sort of Swiss Family Robinson saga about the Australian dream. In historical terms it dramatises the settler's dream and it all but climaxes in its representation of the Australian nightmare. Then there is calm and sadness and the colour drained from the dream. The Secret River is a historical novel, full of contemporary insight and it is also a subtle expression in fictional terms of the myth of collective guilt for the fate of the Aborigines. It is to Kate Grenville's credit that she never surrenders her sense of the individual faces she captures as she tells this story. I suspect a lot of [listeners] are going to find this book both subtle and satisfying." ( The Age)
"One of the most entertaining, accomplished, engaging novels written in this country." ( The Courier Mail)

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not something I would have chosen but glad I did

I purchased this after watching Sara Cox's Between the Covers, I am so glad that I did, beautifully written. Made me think about the plight of the poor in a different way so interesting, moving and beautifully read. Thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend that you try it for yourself.

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His strong supportive wife!

The brave, supportive yet strong-minded wife is almost more interesting than the husband male protagonist character. This was obviously a very dark period in Australian history, and it has whet my appetite to find out more about how the indigenous people suffered at the hands of the first settlers. A lot of repetition of the male’s wishes, wants and desires for my liking: but perhaps it’s needed to create the sense of urgency and mood.

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Very moving

A very good all round listen. Well written & read. I tried the audible version of this book after reading A Room Of Leaves. Glad I did.

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Thought provoking, you’ll need a tissue.

This book opened my heart and eyes ,to so many emotions and depths of feeling. A sad time in history. 😢

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Depressing tale

Bloody awful pan pipes. Depressing story. Obvious ending - not my cup of tea.

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Bitter truth beautifully told - 1st settlers

I’d read this before & shrink from the story- the detailed life of a transported convict.
Colonial savagery writ large as 1st peoples of Australia were massacred in the pursuit of ‘freedom’ & ‘liberty’

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Riveting, but the missing chapter?

Absorbing and full of detail, and William shows his realisation at the end, but it would have been satisfactory (though lengthy);to hear the story not told.

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brilliant

absolutely loved this book, so evocative of a world and time gone by and workings of people

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Brilliant book

I really enjoyed listening to The Secret River. It's a riveting story and very interesting.

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  • 29-04-21

Enthralling

Powerfully written, the story starts very slow, but it builds and builds. A wonderful dramatisation of the struggles and entitlement of early Sydney convict settlers.

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  • henhao
  • 01-03-16

Powerful yet heartbreaking. An absolute must for every Australian

This is a powerful yet tragic tale and an absolute must-read for every Australian. Heartbreakingly informative about the colonisation/invasion of this land, both sides desperate for the other to move on. We recently saw the production on stage in Brisbane - again, a must-see if you have the chance. I also recommend watching Stan Grant's speech delivered in January 2016.

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  • Tracey
  • 22-09-15

it should stay secret

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

someone that likes a boring flat narrator and a rubbish storyline

What was most disappointing about Kate Grenville’s story?

it is the worst portrail of convict settelment that didn,t get to shack up with wife and kids when first transported

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Paul Blackwell?

i don,t think you could narrate this story better

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Secret River?

the start and didn,t get past first chapters

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  • Sutapa Chattopadhyay
  • 09-12-22

Magnificent historical fiction on settlers of NSW,

If there is any story that beautifully captures the pain and agony of a prisoner from London forcibly relocated to Sydney, New South Wales, this story is it. This is a story of guts, risk-taking, heart, love, courage and much more. From the slums of London to back breaking labor in New South Wales, to being freed, ex-prisoner William Thornhill triumphs over every adversity.

But there is another story within this story, that of the natives of that region who are nomads, living on fishing and foraging and who are forced to leave the land where they were born by the white immigrants. This story is also told from the viewpoint of the protagonist, William and his wife Sal and children.

In the beginning, this family takes a' live and let live' approach and does well, until the tribe attacks and kills their neighbors and destroys their crops. There is a bloody and brutal confrontation in which many tribe members are killed and removed from the land.

William experiences a pyrrhic victory even though he becomes very rich after this encounter. One of his sons is estranged from him. But as with other emigration and immigration stories, this is also what happens to many immigrants, and it is not unusual to be changed by brutal experiences, moments of madness all ensuring one's own survival at any cost.

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  • Andrew
  • 07-05-18

Fantastic book

The book is fantastic. A great yarn in the Tradition of Dickens collides with the ugly reality of colonialism. The writing is superb.

The narrator is simply brilliant. The best narrators add so much life and heart to a book. I can’t recommend this reading highly enough.

To the indigenous people of Australia. You were robbed and murdered and called uncivilized criminals. It is impossible to imagine what could ever undo this injustice. It is heartbreaking to see how little has been done.

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  • Robert J Frith
  • 06-05-23

Bit of a plodder

There are some great passages but on the whole it was a pretty straight, chronological tale of a Londoner, William Thornbill, who is transported as a convict. Most of the characters are one dimensional. The idea that Thornbill's wife is transported as well and becomes his boss when he is ticketed seemed a bit of a stretch, but what do I know, perhaps this happened?

The beginning of the book drags and the last couple of chapters feel rushed and sentimental. The rift between Thornbill and his son would seem ripe for some exploration... but... nothing.

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  • Regina Carol
  • 03-11-19

Life as we make it

I found the story dark and heavy. The trials of people who encountered hardships and hateful people. I’m not sure I would have been a person to survive it.

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  • Jacqueline Woiso
  • 16-01-19

boring

I'm 17 and this book was an assignment but for most of it was dragging on too long for me

if you're a man of imagery go ahead otherwise there's better things to read

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  • Anonymous User
  • 17-12-18

Sad but good

Most of this book was really great - I liked the parts describing life in England to how someone came to be sent to Australia and what life was like once they arrived. It gets quite depressing at the end but it had. Will is a very real character that isn’t perfect and like us all, it shows how just thinking something isn’t good enough if your actions don’t match.

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  • faith cowgill
  • 16-04-18

Why the music?

The Music that plays in between the chapters is annoying . Maybe if it had something to do with the story, a story about Australia playing the didgeridoo… It might mean something, but it’s the same music this book house uses in between all of its audiobooks. Just get rid of it, that would be much better

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  • Merlin
  • 25-07-17

Vivid, well-told, life-story novel

I found this to be a very good conventional novel, strong all round and entertaining. It tells the story of a poor boy from London ho ends up seeking his fortune in Australia. The dialogue is excellent, and the narrator is superb.

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