Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book Thoughts - The Secret River by Kate Grenville

The Secret River by Kate Grenville
published 2006
349 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

London, 1806 - William Thornhill, happily wedded to his childhood sweetheart Sal, is a waterman on the River Thames. Life is tough but bearable until William makes a mistake, a bad mistake for which he and his family are made to pay dearly. His sentence: to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. Soon Thornhill, a man no better or worse than most, has to make the most difficult decision of his life.....

My thoughts -

First Impression (4/12/12) - I received this book two Christmases ago from Aarti, as a part of the LibraryThing SantaThing program. I was really excited to read it, and then 2010 happened, also known as the Year that I Hardly Read Anything. Since this year is the first time I feel like I am getting back into the swing of reading and blogging, I knew I wanted to make sure this book was a priority, and that was a very good decision.

I am just under 1/3 of the way through the novel, and it is gorgeous. Grenville's style is beautiful without feeling overblown, and I am not only enjoying the story, but also the act of reading itself.

"He did not know what it was that melted something in him, so he felt his face grow smooth with thinking of her, could even drift away into a dream of her that stayed with him all day, until he trudged up the steps at night hearing the water squelch in his shoes. Lying on his straw in the kitchen, waiting for sleep, the knowledge that she was above him in her room under the roof made something thicken in his throat. Sometimes, coming across her by surprise, he found he could not quite breathe for a moment, or find the words to answer her greeting." (p. 37)

William and Sal are gutsy characters - their life is the scary, dangerous one of London in the early 1800s, and they often have to do bad things in order to get by. But they are not bad people, these two, and it's not hard to hope that things turn out well for them.

I have a feeling this book might break my heart.

Second Thoughts (4/18/12) - "Cozy by lamplight, with the night kept outside and Blackwood's liquor warm in his belly, it was an easy enough promise to make. I would never, he said. Not never, ever, and she relaxed against him and was asleep straight away, her weight sweet as a child's against him while he stared into the shadows." (p. 165)

Oh, I can see where we are headed. Grenville is about to take her characters down an extremely dark road. I don't know for sure what the outcome will be, but I can sense the pain at the end. Books like this make me tense anticipating what I feel sure will happen.

This novel has a lot to say about the conflict between different groups of people - rich vs. poor, white vs. black, native vs. colonizer. These are touchy subjects, and handled lightly can easily give offense. So far, I think Grenville has managed to navigate the waters of race and class well - the attitudes and actions of her characters feel authentic, and in many cases I can relate to their feelings. As before, I am loving her prose - simply beautiful.

Last Word (4/22/12) - This book is really about the consequences of decisions - how every decision has a consequence, even the ones you think won't make any difference at all. At how those consequences can ripple through your life for years to come. And about how those consequences can change you in ways you never imagined you would change. It's about how a good man can make a bad choice, and how it feels to live with that choice for the rest of his life.

William and Sal are characters I won't soon forget - particularly Sal, whose strength was remarkable in the face of the life she was asked to live. Theirs is, ultimately, not a "happily ever after" story. Each of them must make a choice that determines the future of their family, and their choices are neither easy nor cheap. But they make them, and make the best of them, and come out stronger for it.

This novel has a feeling of melancholy that is difficult to shake. It was apparent from the start that a happy ending would be a stretch. But it was a fascinating read about a time and place I know very little about. If you are looking for a good literary fiction read, I definitely encourage you to check this one out!

Finished: 4/22/12
Source: Aarti from Booklust
MPAA rating: R for violence
My rating: 9/10


bermudaonion said...

Some books do leave you feeling like that, but I think it's a sign of a well written book. This sounds wonderful!

Aarti said...

Oh, I'm so glad you got around to reading this! I saw your comment on my post and was very pumped to see what you had to say. I LOVED Sal, too, so much. And I completely agree with you about the melancholy, but the writing was so beautiful, I didn't mind at all.

Serendipitously, the sequel to this book is coming out very soon! It is called Sarah Thornhill, I believe. I haven't read it yet, but I plan to :-)

Elizabeth said...

Bermuda - it was wonderful!

Aarti - you have such good taste in books! Now I'm going to have to go through your blog and read everything you've ever recommended. =) And a sequel??? I'm in!